Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank you and Goodbye Prof. Bartholomeusz by Vickramabahu Karunaratne

(Published at:

All of us who were students of Batho in the Faculty of Engineering Peradeniya were deeply affected when we got the following message from his son Brian.

“After a lifetime spent in the unselfish devotion to the interest of others Prof. Frederick Bartholomeusz peacefully went to his rest today, October 22nd 2011, at the age of 91 surrounded by his family and friends who deeply loved him. Prof. Bartholomeusz was someone who valued himself by the success and achievements of his family, friends, colleagues and most of all, his precious students. By that measure, and by his own estimation, he was an immeasurably wealthy man! He profoundly touched the life of everyone he encountered on four different continents and his friendship, wisdom, and guidance will be deeply missed.”

That exactly depicts the character of the man who not only taught mathematics to us but also gave of the best of western culture. It is he who compelled me to go into mathematics after graduating as an electrical engineer. As a partner in his department I got the opportunity to listen to his version of human ethics and culture. He emphasized the need of commitment to human ethics in politics. A simple mistake in courtesy could develop into a huge political problem, he explained. How true it is.

He was not a genius, no one made that claim, but he was the real master. Batho would not venture into teaching a subject in mathematics without becoming a master in that section. He will enter the class room like a guide who knows not only the route but also every turn and all the by ways. No question could put him in disarray. He will take your hand and will guide you into the problem, step by step.

Batho was convincing

Batho never took no for an answer, if he was convinced that he was in the right track. He thought that mathematics was the best for me and that was the end of the discussion. Then he convinced me that I should go to Cambridge, where he did his higher studies. As a revolutionary I thought that London is the best place for me, the magnificent city which gave recluse to both Marx and Lenin. What about the library, still probably the best in the world. What about Manchester then, the birth place of proletarian campaigns for universal franchise, centre of the strike of cotton workers where Engels wrote about the condition of workers? Prof. did not object to my political commitments. He was a large man who could accommodate others interests and commitments. With his genuine shrewdness he came out with a list of revolutionaries of various kinds who studied at Cambridge. Newton, Russell, Darwin, Keynes and even famous communist spies were there. He made me speechless and I was bundled up and sent to Cambridge. I am so grateful to him for pushing me in the right direction.

He belonged to the elite of burghers in Lanka who gave their life to improve the culture and social practice in this society. This line starts with , I believe, Dr Christopher Elliott, who was the owner of the “Ceylon Observer” in 1846. Elliott was accused by the Governor of Ceylon, Viscount Torrington of “touring the country in an assumed capacity as a redresser of grievances and encouraging dissatisfaction among the Ceylonese”. Thus he took the first step in the struggle of 1848. Though much is said about Puran Appu and Gongalegoda Banda, very little is said about the struggle that started in Colombo in 1848.

In addition to Prof Bartholomeusz three other burghers come to my mind as people who influenced my life and also served the country in their own field.

Pieter Keunaman, in spite of his coalition politics remained a committed socialist and a friendly cultured person, always ready with good advice.

Prof E O E Pereira led engineering education at the university level. He was the Dean of the Engineering Faculty in our time.

I met Tony van der Poorten in 1967 when we invited him for a lecture at the Arts theatre at Peradeniya. He was sharp and logical, and was able to push a number of us to study Marxism seriously.

The Memorial Service

I attended the Memorial Service for the late Prof. Bartholomeusz held at St. Phillip Nehri’s Church, Colombo on 10th of November. I met some of my batch mates after a few decades! It was a moment of sorrow and joy. Batho was a loyal Christian with a powerful sprit that took my self, an unrepentant non believer, almost before the god that he believed in. Thank you Batho, I feel that you are still here.

-Vickramabahu Karunaratne


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