Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Invitation to all Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Graduates

This is an open invitation to all Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Graduates.

Share your memories!

Write to us:

In the meantime, read following aricles already published in this site.

1. Engineering and Politics by Vickramabahu Karunaratne

2. Oviravu (One night) by S. Sivasegaram

3. Just before the stoam by E/81/214


Monday, January 17, 2011

Engineering and Politics - PART 5 - By Vickramabahu Karunaratne

PART 1: Resist the Rag
PART 2: Science Faculty Days
PART 3: Confrontation with Electric Gunda
PART 4: A Marxist Wins

PART 5: Finale

In spite of, or rather because of, my commitment to the cause of the proletariat I did well in my academic work. Obviously, there was no discrimination.

Neither Paul nor Jaya nor WMG appeared to be surprised when I was placed among the first class graduates or when I was awarded a scholarship to go to Cambridge.

At first, I was not interested in going to Cambridge, the citadel of Anglo-Saxon imperialist culture.

But Bartho is not a person to be underestimated. With consistent arguments, backed by the most elementary wisdom, he convinced me that the best place to study Engineering-maths and Socialism was Cambridge.

I arrived at Cambridge expecting great intellectual debates. M.P., who was already there, met me the first day I arrived.

He came to my room, without a word opened the window, showed me the river Cam below and explained in great mathematical precision how to push a punt full of struggling females, along the river Cam, behind the backs of the Great Colleges!


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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Engineering and Politics - PART 4 - By Vickramabahu Karunaratne

PART 1: Resist the Rag
PART 2: Science Faculty Days
PART 3: Confrontation with Electric Gunda

PART 4 - A Maxist Wins...!!!

While absorbed in studies, my general plan was to use my spare time for swimming and rowing. By then I had attained some standard in both these sports, thanks to my continuous visits to the St Joseph’s pool and the Government Services Club, near Beira Lake.

But my Marxist Guru’s, the unholy Trinity, Doru, Kumar and Dharme had other plans for me.

They suggested that I run for a place in the students’ council.

“Do not worry” they assured me. “There are two block votes for the left, one from the Tamils and the other one from down South”.

I am not sure how these “Blocks” worked, but I did get elected with the second highest vote. Probably, the biggest election victory that I have had so far.

At the end of our third year in the faculty, we got the good news that the faculty would be shifted to Peradeniya. There was an interim period of six months in which we were sent to various factories for practical training.

Chris and myself were placed in the Colombo Port Commission under Kulasinghe, Sivapahasundaram and Sriyananda, as Class I fitter and wiremen.

Marx said “The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionising practice”.

Six months at the Port Commission as a worker gave me the experience to understand what Marx meant.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Engineering and Politics - PART 3 - By Vickramabahu Karunaratne

PART 1: Resist the Rag
PART 2: Science Faculty Days

PART 3 - Confrontation with Electric Gunda

I entered the Engineering Faculty proper with its reputation for many things, the least of which was politics.

However, it is the great fortune of the international proletariat that my political Gurus of the Engineering Faculty identified me as the best bet for the future! Kumar, Doru, Dharmawardhana at al, the pantheon of Marxists within the Engineering Faculty approached me and within weeks, even before I could call my mother, I was co-opted into the Sama Samaja Youth League.

I continued to pay my due attention to my studies. In particular, I was attracted to Electrical Engineering by an incident in the electrical lab.

That was the first day in any lab in the Engineering faculty. While chatting, I had inadvertently connected a resister across a terminal of a Cadmium cell.
Then suddenly the man in charge appeared.

Guess who? Electric Gunda, the ferocious bright man who had returned from America with all kinds of modern ideas!

The man lifted the Cadmium cell for all to see and shouted: “Who left it like this?”.

All were trembling. I took a deep breath and muttered “Myself”.

Gunda threw the cell on the table shouting “You will have to pay thousand bucks” and walked out. (Moderators note: what? Instead of asking Bahu to leave the lab?)

I immediately disconnected the battery.

But I learned the lession of my life not to meddle with any engineering equipment without understanding the background.

So much so that even today, I won’t dare to put a household electric switch unless I get into my rubber slippers!

At the end of the day, before leaving the lab, I humbly approached Gunda and asked “Sir, do I have to pay thousand rupees?”

He put on one of those terrible grins and said “Noup, get out”.

Such dramatic incidents increased my affinity to Electrical Engineering in particular.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Engineering and Politics - PART 2 - By Vickramabahu Karunaratne

READ PART 1 - Resist the Rag

PART 2 - Science Faculty Days

As usual then, we did a one-year spell at the Science Faculty.

I was most impressed with those who taught Mathematics to us: Valentine, Volume and Epa. Some of the fundamentals spelt out by them still ring my ears, and certainly helped me to finish my PhD in electromagnetic theory.

There was professor Milvaganam; frankly I do not remember what subject material he introduced to us. But he gave discourses in ethics, ehiquette, and education in general. That was most certainly very useful.

I still remember how he explained, during two lecture hours, the difference between Mr and Esq.. He wanted us to be proper gentlemen before venturing into any field of activity.

I do not blame him.

Coming from Ananda Collage, the epicentre of Sinhala Buddhism, what impressed me most at that stage, was the fact the so many Tamils and others, mixed freely with the Sinhalese, both within the lecture rooms and outside.

In those days, in spite of some racist elements here and there, all students and staff worked together without squinter or suspicion. I do not think that any Sinhala student felt uneasy learning under Mailvaganam, Mahalingam and Sivaprakasapillai.

I always yearn for in my heart that those days will come again to this country, for the benefit of the future generation.

TO BE CONTINUED with PART 3: Confrontation with Electric Gunda

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An introduction to Engineering and Politics - PART 1 - By Vickramabahu Karunaratne

PART 1 – Resist the Rag

For some strange reason my parents thought that I would grow up to be a great engineer.

May be because I broke everything that came my way faster than my elder brother who was certainly more careful. Anyway, my carelessness sealed my fate.

Nay, not quite.

But I found myself entering the Engineering Faculty with such eminent engineers to be: M.P., Siri, W.M., Chris, et al.

The first thing I got involved in was an anti-rage resistance.

I can remember nine of us from Ananda Collage, slowly moving around the Colombo campus draped in white suits complete with maroon and gold collage ties.

Then, suddenly Chris Ratnayake came to me and suggested that I join him in an organisation to resist the ragging that was going on.

I must say that at first, I did not like this guy with a foreign look and with a foreign accent. In addition he spoke bad Sinhala. He was called ‘Cheena’ by his class mates.

But “Resist the Rag!” I could not miss that.

So I went along with Chris.

That was the beginning of a long friendship that has survived even his full time appointment with the World Bank!

Anyway, the clandestine committee that was formed to resist the seniors consisted of a few students drawn mainly from Colombo schools. We decided to request everybody in our batch to abandon suits and disobey the seniors.

Next day, we gathered at the Thurston collage garage and marched as a group to the Campus.

At the gates we met a group of seniors with their cycles blocking our entrance. Rajaratnam was in the lead.

Arguments broke out.

Then, suddenly, Sumith Kulathilake broke the line shouting “Let us go; why should we explain anything to them?”

Our Seniors all gathered around him and ordered: “You all can go; we want to question this man”.

We did not move an inch; and also we outnumbered them. They could see that we meant business, and in any case, they themselves were divided.

“O.K. If you do not want it, let us call it a day”, Rajaratnam finally said.

That was the beginning of a new tradition ‘no-rag’ which survived as long as our batch remained in the Faculty.

To be continued with PART 2 - Science Faculty Days

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Oriravu (One Night) : PART 3 - by S. Sivasegaram




We met the Dean of the Faculty, Professor Thurairajah to seek his help to ensure that Balasooriyan was not ill treated at the Police Station. He had a good friend in the late Mr W Dahanayake, a senior technician with helpful friends in Kandy, including the police.

I think that Daha spoke to a senior police officer, and I doubt if Balasoorian was beaten up. He was taken to Colombo the next day, and if I recollect correctly what Balasooriyan told me on his return to Peradeniya several days later, he was slapped just once in Colombo during questioning, but they treated him fairly well, subsequently.

Given the fact that the UNP was the ruling party and given its domination of university life in Peradeniya, the UNP has much to answer for in the events of 11th evening. But I do not think that the SLFP or JVP activists did much to protect the Tamil students. It was much after the events that some students with JVP sympathies spoke to Tamil students to dissuade them from leaving the university.

Several students in their individual capacity risked the wrath of the viciously anti-Tamil mob. I remember Asanka Perera and Darshi de Sarem among a good number of others from the Engineering Faculty who in the days after 11th May campaigned actively against anti-Tamil threats and gave protection to Tamil students from other faculties as well. That was despite the Engineering Faculty itself having its fair share of Sinhala chauvinists and Tamil narrow nationalists.

The traditional left had no significant following among students and among academics those with strong left sympathies spoke up strongly against the attacks, as did some with UNP and SLFP sympathies.

I also remember that Thulsie Wickremasinghe, whose name fares prominently in the UTHR(J) documents, was found guilty of organising violence of 11th May by a university committee of inquiry but not long after was appointed Assistant Lecturer in the Faculty of Science by the late Professor George Dissanayake, very much to the surprise if not shock of several good Christians in the academic staff.


(Written by: S Sivasegaram)

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Oriravu (One Night) : PART 2 - by S. Sivasegaram

Read PART 1


After discussing the matter with me, he suggested that the Vice Chancellor Leslie Panditharathna may be the one for me to talk to, and let me use the HO Hall telephone to call Leslie, who was always friendly towards me despite my political leanings. He was awake at the time although it was well past midnight, and asked me to come over to his residence (a hundred metres from my house) by the university security vehicle along with Balasooriyan.

When I reached his residence, there were a few others at his house, all university academics and one administrator, and they were probably discussing the developments since Wednesday evening.

I said to Leslie that I did not think that Balasooriyan had any ‘terrorist’ links, although I could not guarantee anything, and that a decision to hand over Balasooriyan should be based on a university inquiry.

I also explained that handing over a young man to the police as a suspected terrorist in the middle of the night could have bad consequences.

He agreed that he will arrange for an inquiry as fast as possible and take the matter from there, and said that he will instruct the security officer concerned to keep Balasooriyan in the care of the university security. He also authorised me to stay with Balasooriyan at the security post. I spoke to my mother, and she was most supportive and asked me to attend to whatever was necessary.

I stayed with Balasooriyan, who was rather exhausted by his ordeal, and asked him to have a bit of sleep. Early in the morning, like around 6.30 a.m. or slightly later, Kasy came over to relieve me.

I went home, had my wash and breakfast and went to the Engineering Faculty. Kasy came to the Faculty to meet me and told me that the police went to the security post while the inquiry was under way and took Balasooriyan away. He was also unhappy that, although he was a member of the staff holding an important post relating to student welfare, he was not allowed to intervene during the inquiry which was conducted by a university officer with Yusoof (a university marshal who was allegedly killed by the JVP insurgents fifteen years later) acting as interpreter.

In Kasy’s view, Yusoof’s translations of Balasooriyan’s answers were seriously flawed and could incriminate Balasooriyan. He was hurt that he could do nothing about it.

(By S Sivasegaram)


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Oriravu (One Night) : PART 1 - by S. Sivasegaram

Written by: S Sivasegaram

Professor Sivasegarm writes about his involvement in the events that took place at University of Peradeniya on 11 May 1983.

Balasooriyan he refers to in this article was a first year Engineering student.

For a more detailed account of these events see:


It was a Wednesday, the day on which Rupavahini shows old Tamil movies late in the evening. That probably had something to do with the choice of that evening by some miscreants to attack Tamil students, since they gather in places with TV sets for the movie.

I was at my friend Dr Keerthisena’s house, two doors to the right my house, and somewhat engrossed in the movie ‘Oriravu’, which I saw more than thirty years ago. A student had called at my home and my mother probably directed him to Keerthi’s house or to Dr Kasinathan’s, just two doors to the left of mine.

I was told that I was wanted at Hilda Obeysekera Hall. I went home, and explained to my mother that I had to go to the other side of the river. I planned to walk to HO Hall, but Kasi, who I think was a Deputy Proctor or something similar to that at the time, offered to take me there on his motorcycle.

It was rather tense when we entered the campus and Kasi dropped me at Hilda Obeysekera Hall. He did not get involved at that stage as the request was for me to see Balasooriyan.

I met the Warden Dr KNO Dharmadasa who let me talk to Balasooriyan. There was pressure on KNO from an agitated group of students demanding that he handed over Balasooriyan to the police, and Balasooriyan was aware of it. Although the security personnel were there, KNO was not keen on handing over Balasooriyan to the police. But, given the situation, he was not in a position to set Balasooriyan free either.

(By S Sivasegaram)


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Soo it was all over! - by E/81/214

PART 1: First in the batch...!!!
PART 2: Everything was going on so well…
PART 3: Student Clashes
PART 4: Rough seas
PART 5: Final year

Soon it was all over!

As we left the E-fac for the very last time, it was getting ready to greet President JR with a new colour wash and a face lift to the buildings. There were 252 of us when were started in 1981. We lost about 35 at the first year hurdle. A similar number would have left us for studies abroad after the 1983 riots. Finally only 90 of us completed the exams in December 1985 and graduated at the convocation held in December 1986. I am sure that apart from a few who really don’t need that damn thing at this point of time in their otherwise successful careers, all would have added the BScEng title to their business cards by now.

I once asked senior student councillor HHJ Keerthisena about reasons why so many Peradeniya students fail their exams while the failure rate at Moratuwa was so much lower. The “malle-pol” answer I got sounds funny but is yet another eye-opener.

Apparently, when the Moratuwa University started, they could only attract those Peradeniya E-Fac graduates with less impressive results, while Peradeniya retained those with superior results! As a result, in our days we were seeing graduates with super results from Moratuwa and less impressive results from Peradeniya!! In this context, it was not surprising that Peradeniya took ages to replace the slide-ruler with pocket calculator and took about eight months to release final exam results.

We spent the most energetic, innovative and brave years of our lives at Peradeniya and I believe that how you spent the university days would decide what kind of animal you would finally end up being in the society. There is no doubt that during our E-Fac days, we always did things that we thought were the best in the best ways possible. There is also no doubt that if given a chance, we all would do certain things a bit differently! At least this much is clear. If JA Gunawardena ask me again, I would say that the voltage of that cell is around 2 volts.

We all still cherish our memories, sweet or otherwise, of the undergraduate days with great nostalgia. If anyone asked me about the best experience I gained during my four years at the E-Fac, I would say without hesitation that it was the close association with fellow students from other ethnic groups that makes the life at Peradeniya unique. You cannot get any closer than eating rice cooked in the same pot, ie, “eka-heliye-bath”, in the Akbar Hall and you only have to speak to someone from another university to learn how lucky we have been to have that great experience.

Finally, let me explain the title I have chosen for this article.

What we experience was only just a breeze. The storm came fist to the faculty and then to the whole country a little while after we passed-out. The second year course work issue ended up with a student clashing with each other and some sustaining physical injuries.

Later, when the hearts took over the student leadership from the brains, blood was spilled and many lives were lost.

The storm may long be over now, but from what we see the destruction is still seen everywhere and reconstruction and rehabilitation is carried out at a dangerously slow pace. Or has the storm damaged everything beyond recovery?

(written in 2000)

Await - the next article "Its time"

Monday, January 3, 2011

Final year - by E/81/214

PART 1: First in the batch...!!!
PART 2: Everything was going on so well…
PART 3: Student Clashes
PART 4: Rough seas

The final year is when the student attitudes take a long term vision. They start to dress smartly with some even saying good-bye to their beloved rubber slippers; they start to hang round where medical faculty chicks flock; they try to attend as many lectures as possible and take a lukewarm attitude towards common student activities. Yet, as far as student representation is concerned, the final year students had the highest responsibility. Wijedasa Koonara, Stanly Moremada, Gunapala Gajanayake, Krishantha jayarathne and I represented our batch-mates at the student action committee. Gunapala was the convener.

One thing you realise while spending your time with Union activities is that whereas sports and studies go together very well without any time conflicts, all your Tin-Kiri work and studies always fight for the same time slots and as a rule studies lose. You can consider yourself lucky if you have selected a filed like Production Engineering giving you overlapping subject areas, little course-work and no design or field work. You are even luckier when the head of department has a “you-guys-will-only-waste-my-material-and-machine-time” towards student projects when you ask for guidance. Fantastic!

When you finish all your Tin-Kiri work and finally sit down to study you realise that there are only a few weeks to go before D-day arrives, even that thanks to bitterly fought sequential scheduling of examinations. So, unless you want to show a villain of a personal love triangle that he is wrong in his assessment of your studying capability, turning a four year practice upside down is an next to impossible task. Therefore, I consider the Second Upper pass as just a consolation price for 36 days of studying.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rough seas - by E/81/214

PART 1: First in the batch...!!!
PART 2: Everything was going on so well…
PART 3: Student Clashes

Soon after, the second most unfortunate event in my student life happened. We lost Pathmasiri Abeysekara of the medical faculty to the police bullet. This sad incident was not without its own blessing as well, as it created a new form of student leadership without any political leanings.

When the university was finally re-opened with the police post gone, we began slowly adapting to the normality. One notable difference was that the university administration had been taken over by the fellows from the medical faculty and it would be years until that bad spell was broken!

One popular saying in our University days was that “Those who are handsome don’t get girls and those who cram don’t get classes (Hendiyan ta badu netha, kraman ta class netha)!” I am sure that this is still as popular as then. Even though from time to time, we could prove that the first part of this saying is not true, we firmly believed that later part.

Then came the eye opener. The faculty released the second year results with the usual delay. Those who got through became instant heroes and all those jokes about their cramming disappeared into thin air. Some of us understood for the first time that while it is “cool” to cut lectures and not taking studies seriously, it is “cooler” to get good results at the exams. Unfortunately, these results were released too late in the academic year that even if you get lecture notes copied from someone else, you are too late to make any difference. The third year exam was just around the corner. These exams will be remembered forever for the leaked exam papers. There was a tough talk by Thureirajah and presumably some investigation but were not aware of anything that happened to the culprits.

The fourth year began in the last week of January 1985 with a minor hick-up due to the University Amendment Act of 1985. The island-wide strikes organised by the IUSF failed to make any serious impact and we were back to normalcy soon with only the slogans Jayasri and I wrote on the railway bridge at Dangolla being the lone reminder. The faculty administration saw an end of an era with Thureirajah resigning to join the Open University. The ESU, presented him with a gold medal for his services to the faculty students community. At the general body meeting I chaired as the President of the ESU, at least one student, as I remember it was Ronnie of the E/82 batch, suggested that we welcome the new Dean also with a gold medal. But on a suggestion made by Stanly Moremada, the student body decided to leave it to a future ESU to award a gold medal to new Dean CLV Jayathilake, if the need arises!


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Student Clashes - by E/81/214

PART 1: First in the batch...!!!
PART 2: Everything was going on so well…

Everything was going on so well…, until early December 1982, when the rivalry between JVP and UNP student factions culminated in a bloody clash between them and the closure of the University.

That was the starting breeze of a great storm that ravaged the whole country a few years later.

University life never returned to normalcy after that clash. The University suspended several students and while the fight to get them back continued, the most unfortunate incidents in the history of the University happened on 11 May 1983.

A few student thugs started beating some fellow Tamil students and most of the Tamil students of the University had to return home for their safety.

The Engineering Student Union (ESU) under the intelligent leadership of Asanka Perera, decided to boycott classes until it was safe for all students to resume studies. However, after the black July incidents, the Engineering faculty lost some of these students permanently.

Based on the clash in December 1982, the University suspended several students including two from the faculty. Student agitation against this decision continued until second week of July 1983, when a fast-unto-death hunger strike was organised by the Peradeniya Students’ Union (PSU). The infamous Dias incident and the closer of the university followed. With the University deciding to go for final examinations directly without completing the rest of the academic year, those poor second year engineering students who were still doing their CRO-3 experiments were given a second life!

The rebirth of the great boycott never materialised because engineering students betrayed their fellow university students. The third academic year started in the first week of January 1984 with a fresh look. We were missing a few fellow students who had decided to keep away from the country due to safety reasons, and of course those student union members suspended by the university. To compensate for the loss, we had a police station opened in the university just adjoin to post office.

With the whole of former student representation either under suspension or under the continued treat of long term suspension there was hardly any agitation against those lost privileges.

We had a lottery to allocate rooms for the third year and everyone (who won) was happy again!