[APPRECIATIONS - (29-01-2018)] | Daily News

[APPRECIATIONS - (29-01-2018)]

Prof. Sivapathasundaram Mageswaran

Mentor par excellence

Tears roll down my face whenever the thoughts of two persons come to my mind. Both lost their lives in their prime. One is my elder brother who was also my guardian and the other is Jaffna University Chemistry Department founder Head Professor Sivapathasundaram Mageswaran—one of the pioneers of the University.

February 2, 2018, marks the 20th death anniversary of our beloved professor. This is an attempt to remember some aspects of his unique and remarkable life.

To me, Professor Mageswaran was the most inspiring teacher, a mentor par excellence, a reliable friend and an honest well-wisher. To have had Professor Mageswaran as my teacher and mentor was a gift from God.

The Jaffna University was initiated in the mid-1970's. Prof. Mageswaran joined it as one of its pioneers and served until his untimely death in 1998. He was the youngest among the pioneers and proved to be the most enthusiastic and energetic among the finest of them. He played a major role in shaping the institution into a strong academic entity.

As the founding Head of the Department of Chemistry, he worked tirelessly to produce graduates of outstanding quality. Initially, the department was housed in the undergraduate section of the Jaffna College and had to manage with very limited resources. He balanced these limitations through his hard work.

I was among the first batch of students admitted to the Chemistry department. Whenever we had a problem in our studies or in our personal life, he was there to listen. He gave us his time and inspiration generously.

It is a legend even today, how he oversaw the construction of the Chemistry building at the Thirunelveli premises of the University, while at the same time, attending to all his regular duties. Once the workers were adding cement, gravel, and sand in the concrete mixer, he was counting the number of sacks. When he noticed that the ratio was not the same as the standard one, he went to the site and stopped the work.

Since he took a keen interest in the good name of the University and the welfare of the students, all who worked with him also took a similar interest.

As a great leader, he showed the path by example and not by preaching. Anyone who places their self-interest first cannot make a lasting contribution to a public institution. Mageswaran's contributions to the University stand as proof to his selfless service.

Prof. Mageswaran functioned as the Head of the Department of Chemistry for a long time. He was twice elected as the Dean of the Faculty of Science. This was during one of the most difficult periods of war and he guided the department and the faculty with resolve, tact and caution. He also functioned as an elected member to the University Council and served on several boards and committees.

In all these positions, he left an indelible mark as a person who worked on principles and one never gave up on them. His principles were not founded merely on regulations or laws, but on the higher philosophies that guided the making of those laws and regulations.

He also made sure that any ambiguity in the interpretation of regulations did not lead to dilution of standards.

Professor Mageswaran was a man of unblemished record of integrity. He was frank in whatever he did. He fought to ensure that the University of Jaffna maintained high standards in education and administration although, at times, this earned him the annoyance of many.

The virtue of all achievement, in the words of A. J. Cronin, is victory over oneself. Professor Mageswaran knew of this victory and hence, there was no defeat for him. “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this Earth.” These are the words of Albert Einstein about Mahatma Gandhi. The same words also fit to Professor Mageswaran.

Prof. Mageswaran had his secondary education at Kokuvil Hindu College. His classmates remember his as an exceptionally gifted, all-round student.

He played cricket and football. He was a talented spinner and had a big fan group for his batting. They recall how stadium would be filled with enthusiastic cries and applause whenever he appeared at the grounds.

Later, he entered the then University of Ceylon, Colombo, followed the Special Degree course in Chemistry, and in the final year, was transferred to Peradeniya. He passed out with Honours in 1966, and after serving in the University of Peradeniya as an Assistant Lecturer, left for UK in 1968.

He completed his MSc and PhD degrees at the Sheffield University. On his return, Professor Mageswaran served at the Peradeniya University for a few years before joining the Jaffna University. Professor Kumar, a longtime friend of Professor Mageswaran, lyrically described the circumstances under which Professor Mageswaran spent a major part of his working years in Jaffna:

“He lived through the tensions of life in Jaffna through bombing, shelling, and uncertain atmosphere of guerilla war... The feeling that one will be unable to access hospitals in times, of need, the feeling that the hospital may not have a doctor who can treat one even if one gets there, the feeling that the hospital may not have the drugs the doctor prescribes—these have been everyday fears...” There is no doubt that these conditions contributed to the deterioration of his health.

In 1997, he went to India for treatment. On his return, he told me that only 40 percent of his heart was functioning and that surgeons had informed him that they could not perform the necessary by-pass surgery. Naïve may be, I never believed that a disease could take his life so soon. I was proved wrong to my profound sorrow.

He carried on for a few more months by his sheer determination and willpower. The end came on the February 2, 1998. His funeral was one of the biggest to be held in Jaffna.

Students carried the casket on their shoulders for several miles as hundreds of students, former students, staff, and admirers marched along in tears. It was a testimony to his life.

Dr. N. Sivapalan, Senior Chemistry Lecturer, University of Jaffna

M. D. Wimalasuriya

He was ahead of his time

My father, M. D. Wimalasuriya, who passed away on March 8, 1987, would have been 100 years old on January 27, 2018. Some of his students who have reached great heights in their chosen careers dominate the public service of Sri Lanka today. Their appreciation of my father’s true love of his profession as a teacher/principal, bear testimony to his dedication to his role as a teacher/principal of Dharmasoka College, many years ago

He was as much a dedicated father as he was a conscientious teacher/role model to his students.

To my father, his alma-mater was the place where he created dreams for his students. One such dream was the two-mile swim in the ocean, which he successfully executed in collaboration with Dr. Visvanathan.

As a loving father, he devoted his energy to his four children; three daughters and an only son.

I remember with a pang of pain, the weekly letters he wrote to me during my first year away from home, when I was in school in Colombo during the 1960's. Perhaphs both of us would have been nostalgic about home, but my father distracted me from my home-sickness with his letters. He instilled in me not only a sense of independence, but also a love of English language and literature.

If my father were alive today, he would no doubt be proud of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He would have spoken of his past misdemeanours and may have also mentioned the value of education and gender equality, which he believed at a time when the world was yet to talk about such topics.

Thaththa, you were ahead of your time.

My dearest Thaththa, I am ever so grateful to you for making me who I am today. The only way I can show my gratitude to you is to worship your wedding photograph that hangs on the wall in front of our bed as I wake up every morning. You look so handsome—tall, charismatic, and dignified in your double-breasted suit in the photo. You smile at me as if to say "Keep calm and score goals."

Jayanthee Amarasekara, Melbourne, Australia 


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