Thursday, November 19, 2015

With his brilliance and simplicity he touched the lives of many (M. P. Ranaweera writes about S. Mahalingam)

I was sad to hear of the passing away of Professor Mahalingam on November 3, in Jaffna, after a brief illness. He was the last surviving member of the pioneers of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, which was established in July 1950, as a part of the then University of Ceylon.

Maha, as he was affectionately called by his students and friends, was one of the most respected academics at the University of Peradeniya.

He was a great teacher, much loved by all his students, and brilliant researcher of international fame. He touched the lives of everyone he encountered all over the world.

Selvadurai Mahalingam had his secondary education in Malaya, and came to Ceylon in 1946 to obtain his university degree, as there was no university in Malaya at that time.

At that time Ceylon had a university, but no Faculty of Engineering offering engineering degrees. So he joined the Ceylon Technical College, Colombo, followed a degree course in engineering, and registered for an external degree of the University of London.

After obtaining his B.Sc. Eng. (first class) degree from the University of London, he joined the staff of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Ceylon, at its inception in July 1950 as an Assistant Lecturer.

He was one out of 12 academic staff of the Faculty of Engineering, under the capable leadership of the founder Dean, Prof. E.O.E. Pereira.

At that time the Department of Mechanical Engineering had only two academic staff members, none with post-graduate qualifications.

So Prof. Pereira wanted Maha to do graduate work in Mechanical Engineering, even though his London degree was in Civil Engineering.

He proceeded to the UK to do research at the University of Sheffield, and got his Ph.D. degree in 1956, working in the area of mechanical vibrations.

He also did some practical work on vibrations with Rolls Royce, and returned to Ceylon to become a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering.

While shouldering a heavy teaching load, he also did pioneering research in mechanical vibrations, and established a research culture at the Faculty.

His seminal paper in the prestigious Journal of Applied Mechanics on the Holzer Method of Balancing in Vibration Control was highly acclaimed.

Later in association with Prof. R.E.D. Bishop at the University of London, he produced a series of papers of the highest international standard.

He did most of his research work while working at the Faculty of Engineering, and his work has been quoted in textbooks and journals.

I was fortunate to study under him, and also later to be closely associated with him as a colleague. As students we respected him very much; his lectures were clear, precise, and thought provoking.

His use of the blackboard was an example for others to follow, and whenever we approached him for clarification, the answers he gave showed that he was a master of the subject.

Under the guidance of academic staff like Maha, the Faculty produced brilliant engineering graduates many of whom have had successful careers in Sri Lanka and abroad.

They rose to the highest positions in the profession and in academia in their adopted countries, and their success has been a source of pride to the Faculty.

At the Faculty, we consulted him often for his advice on various matters, and his opinions were always valued and helpful. During the period I was Dean of the Faculty, I got him to produce a series of publications, the most important being the History of the Faculty of Engineering.

This classic work which covered the origins and the early period of the Faculty, was the first such document to be produced by any university in Sri Lanka, and it is still being referred by anyone writing such a document.

He also edited several important Faculty documents, including the Research in Engineering in 1970, and Memories of an Engineering Faculty in 2000, the latter for the Golden Jubilee of the Faculty.

For his research contributions, the University of London conferred him the D.Sc. in Engineering. That was the first earned engineering D.Sc. by any Sri Lankan, and it still remains the only such degree obtained by any Sri Lankan on research done while in Sri Lanka.

Because of this unique honour, the University of Ceylon created a personal chair in Applied Mechanics for him; the first such position created at the University, because until that time the only chairs available were cadre chairs.

During the 70s the university was short of funds for buildings, and Maha started the construction of the Applied Mechanics Lab, virtually using petty cash.

The normal practice then was to give the design and construction of buildings to outside contractors as the university only had a Maintenance Department for routine maintenance and supervision of building construction.

So Maha’s was a novel idea, which produced what was later called a “petty-cash building”. We did the structural designs at the Faculty, purchased building materials, hired direct labour, and supervised building construction. This saved much funds to the university and it got a quality product.

Maha also got the Faculty Workshops to make various mechanical equipment and demonstration models for teaching, without buying them from outside.

His Applied Mechanics Lab became the showpiece of the Faculty, and a ‘must visit’ place for any visitor. It can still compete with any such lab in Sri Lanka or abroad.

He also got some sectioned models of complicated machinery from outside using his contacts, and one such model – the jet engine he got from Rolls Royce – is the symbol of the Faculty of Engineering now.

Even though he was a researcher of highest international standards, Maha was a very simple and humble person. He avoided the limelight, and wanted to devote all his time to teaching and research.

He never wanted to be the Head of the Department or Dean of the Faculty, even though he was often the first choice for those positions. When the Government of Sri Lanka awarded the title VidyaJyothi to him in 2005, he was not very enthusiastic about it.

Professor Mahalingam retired from the Faculty in 1991, after continuously serving it for over 40 years, but continued to teach for several years after retirement.

In appreciation of his long, dedicated and outstanding service to the Faculty of Engineering and the University, the University of Peradeniya conferred him the title of Professor Emeritus, and in 2007, the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association (PEFAA) felicitated him.

He will be deeply missed.

- Munidasa P. Ranaweera

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Professor S. Mahalingam: A gentle colossus (By Newton Wickramasuriya)

This article was published in "The Island" dated 13 November 2015

It was with deep sorrow that I was looking at the serene man now lying peacefully in a coffin. He was a colossus among the academics and he walked along the corridors of the sprawling Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya with a characteristic and purposeful stride that inspired confidence in everybody who came across him.

Emeritus Professor S. Mahalingam passed away in Alakollai, Alaveddy in Jaffna on 3rd November 2015, at the age of 89, far away from his beloved Peradeniya and Kandy. He would have been 90 on 16 January 2016. Unfortunately it was not to be so.

A wave of spontaneous sorrow and grief struck hundreds of engineers here and abroad for whom he was their mentor, teacher and guide. Born on 16th January 1926 in Jaffna, he was the eldest in a family of eight. He later moved to Malaya along with his family and had his primary and secondary education at Maxwell School and Victoria College in Kuala Lumpur. Selvadurai Mahalingam left Malaya in 1946 to follow a degree course in engineering at the then Ceylon Technical College in Colombo. Ironically, according to him, Ceylonese parents in Malaya at that time wanted their children to be educated in Ceylon as there were better educational facilities and colleges teaching professional courses. Now the reverse is taking place!

He qualified as a Civil Engineer in 1950, having obtained a B.Sc. Eng. First class honours degree from the University of London as an external candidate. He was placed first among the candidates from Ceylon. He joined the newly established Faculty of Engineering, University of Ceylon, in 1952, as an Assistant Lecturer. It was the late Professor E. O. E. Pereira who was then the Dean, that persuaded him to switch over to Mechanical Engineering. Consequently, he proceeded to University of Sheffield for his PhD and completed it in 1956, specializing in torsional vibration. He returned to the University of Ceylon in the same year and was promoted to a Lecturer’s position. He published extensively, in reputed refereed journals, on topics related to his field of expertise. In recognition of his contribution, he was awarded the Doctor of Science in Engineering (DSc Eng) by the University of London. He was the first Sri Lankan Engineer to get this prestigious award. Dr. Mahalingam became the Professor of Mechanical Engineering in 1970 and retired in 1991. Grateful students organized a felicitation ceremony, the first of its kind in the history of the Engineering Faculty, to a packed house at the E.O.E. Pereira theatre. One incident that still lingers in the minds of the Engineers, who were present that day, was how the late Dr. B M A Balasuriya, after making his speech, said that he wanted to show his respect to his teacher and went on his knees before Professor Mahalingam, touched his feet and worshipped him. It was an unforgettable moment and practically everybody present was in tears. Needless to say, that the others also followed suit.

Simply dressed but elegant, his attire never changed its design, cottons being his favorite, the short sleeve shirt always over the trouser. His relatives had made sure to keep to this tradition even in his death, and not the usually seen lounge suit under similar situations.

Professor Mahalingam married Devaki who predeceased him in 2014. She was a tower of strength to him and we could see how he was devastated after her death. An embodiment of simplicity and purpose, he was a man with a mission. Students’ welfare and teaching were more important to him than personal benefits and comforts. Material benefits were not a priority for him. A highly recognized academic with an international reputation, but greener pastures were not in his agenda although there were several overtures. During the disastrous 1983 riots, his wife and he were compelled to move next door, to the Hilda Obeysekera Hall, for security. This was an unforgettable but a very sad situation for them. When I rushed there, with my wife, to look into their welfare at that time, he narrated the sorry state of affairs at the Hilda Obeysekera Hall and how he had to join a queue with others to use the wash room and toilets which brought tears to our eyes. But still, the greener pastures were not for him. Many are unaware how grateful we should be to have had him amidst us through all these upheavals.

When the country was experiencing the pangs of a closed economy, in the sixties and early seventies, where everything was in short supply, Professor Mahalingam embarked on a unique journey. That was to develop the Applied Mechanics Laboratory from scratch, which is a standing monument to his commitment. Now, named after him, it stands as a showpiece that attracts large crowds on every public occasion. The very unpretentious person he was, when the senior Engineers requested the Dean to name the laboratory after him, on the day of the felicitation ceremony, he flatly refused and said such things should not be done when the person was still serving in an institution. Such were his principles and discipline that he practiced by word and deed.

Although he looked very stern and hard, those who were close to him knew how compassionate and witty he was. I think the exterior was due to the self-discipline he maintained. Many a time he confessed that he could not understand why students did not come to him and asked for advise regarding the subject matter. As he was a strict disciplinarian, and especially on course work, deadlines were kept without extensions, and students feared and respected his instructions.

Inspite of this, Professor Mahalingam was a jovial person full of humor amongst friends. He was full of anecdotes and jokes, and had the ability to relate even the simplest, much heard of, stories with a unique style of delivery and well timed punch line to raise laughter. He also had the ability to narrate even the jokes bordering on adult content with a dead pan face.

I particularly remember an incident, in my final year, at the drawing office. I felt somebody standing behind me. When I looked up it was Professor Mahalingam and I was so nervous I just stopped whatever I was doing. He, with his characteristic delivery, said "It’s good to read outside the subject. Professor Tuplin is a friend of mine. His views are well known but not shared by many". He then walked away abruptly and I was stunned. He, of course, was referring to a coursework I had submitted on Holzer analysis of torsional vibration. Professor Tuplin, also, was an expert on vibration but did not favour Holzer’s analysis, and I also criticized and mentioned this in my discussion in the coursework. It so happened that I had read about this in a book in the library. Naturally, I expected the worst and a request for a resubmission but, he had written ‘good’ to my utter surprise.

Of course, at that time I did not know that Professor Mahalingam was closely associated with Holzer analysis and in fact had modified the prevailing theory. Professor S. Mahalingam’s name is quoted in the well known text book, ‘Mechanics of Vibration’ by Professors R. E. D. Bishop and R. C. Johnson, in recognition of his modification to the Holzer analysis. Incidentally, both of these were friends of the Professor and he co-authored several papers on vibrations with Professor R. E. D. Bishop.

Professor Mahalingam shunned publicity, did not accept positions, accolades or titles for which he maintained he was not qualified. When the University of Peradeniya offered to confer D.Sc. (Honoris Causa), he politely refused and said he had one earned doctorate and that was enough.

He was very good at motivating people. Long before I read Schumacher’s "In Search of Excellence", it was Professor Mahalingam who taught me the importance of appreciating the work of subordinates whatever the rank may be. When we were fabricating equipment for demonstration as well as for qualitative analysis, once the product was completed, he used to make a bee line to the work shop and bring the technicians who assisted in fabricating, and demonstrated the device to them first. The staff highly appreciated this indeed and went out of their way to finish work assigned to them and their unstinted cooperation was always readily available.

Many myths are generally woven around great men, these may be an indication of their greatness. Isaac Newton and Einstein had theories attributed to them which had very little to do with them. Professor Mahalingam was not an exception. There were many stories about how he had solved vibration problems in Rolls Royce gas turbines. One such story being circulated even now, after his death, is how he had detected a defect in an Avro jet engine, and in lieu of compensation that he refused, Rolls Royce gifted a sectioned jet engine! I asked him about this, several years ago, and he laughed it off in his typical unassuming manner. He said, he just wrote to Rolls Royce explaining what he was doing at the Applied Mechanics laboratory and asked whether they had any discarded engines or equipment which could be used for teaching purposes. They responded by saying there was a sectioned jet engine, used for a training programme, which has no use for them now and they would be pleased to donate it to the Faculty provided the freight was arranged. University had agreed to bear the cost of freight, and this engine now proudly adorns the lobby of the Faculty of Engineering, Peradeniya. A fitting display for an Engineering Faculty!

Professor Mahalingam firmly believed in a knowledge-based education with emphasis on practical application. This was the reason why he created this unique space, now known as Professor Mahalingam Laboratory, at the Faculty of Engineering, Peradeniya. This laboratory, then known as the Applied Mechanics Laboratory, is the main attraction to visitors to the Faculty, be it local or foreign. Perhaps, this home-made laboratory is the only kind in the world. Created with minimal cost, it is a veritable resource centre for all mechanical engineering students. It guides you through displays of sectioned engines to industrial applications of mechanical engineering with meticulously designed and fabricated products with superior finishes that conceal the scrap material used in them. It also demonstrates what can be achieved, with available resources, rather than waiting for foreign funds and advice.

Applied Mechanics laboratory, at first, was housed within the Applied Thermodynamics laboratory. Very soon it became evident that the space was running out as new equipment and display units were being turned out almost every other week. If I remember right, it was in 1970 the need for a new building was conceptualized and Professor Mahalingam agreed to try out Dr Milton Amaratunge’s suggestion to use ‘no fine concrete’ for the non-load bearing walls to keep the cost down. However, he ran out of the meager funds provided by the university. Under similar situations the others normally give up but his determination was such that he used ‘petty cash’ in the department, to complete the building.

He was a witty person too. Once in our final year, just outside the lecture room, somebody raised the engine of his two-stroke motor cycle, sans the silencer. With his characteristic staccato voice, he asked "who made that spectacular display of his horsepower?" He was not without critics. There were many who found fault with him for not initiating post graduate studies in his field of specialization. His answer to that was, he did not believe in half baked products. He bemoaned the fact that the University did not have sufficient funds to get down text books and journals of repute. "How can I produce post graduates under such circumstances", he asked, quite rightly, too.

He was the last of the pioneering academics that launched the first Faculty of Engineering in Sri Lanka.

Professor Mahalingam was a teacher and gentleman par excellence worthy of emulation.

-Newton Wickramasuriya, Past President, Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Professor Mahalingam Memories (Final Parts) - Some personalities in the faculty AND Partial Relocation in a Second Home

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Part I - The New Faculty
Part II - Our First Home
Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon
Part IV - Working in the Faculty
Part V - A change of department
Part VI - Annual survey camp

Some personalities in the faculty

When the academic staff assembled in the Faculty on the first day no introductions had been necessary. Almost all of them had been associated with the CTC as teachers (full time or part-time) or as students, and had been acquainted.

The only "outsider" in the team was the Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, Mr. J.C.V. Chinnappa, who was to arrive a few months later from India. He was a Ceylonese who had done his first degree in India and his post-graduate work in England. Perhaps a few more "outsiders" would have done some good to bring academic variety to what appeared to be an inbred community of teachers.

Prof. E.O.E. Pereira had been appointed Professor of Civil Engineering in January 1948 at a time when the university did not have a Faculty of Engineering, or even plans for one. His assignment was to prepare plans for a Faculty while helping the CTC which was acutely short of lecturers. He had quickly earned a reputation as a teacher par-excellence and was much respected by those of us he had lectured to.

He was well known for the pipe that he often had in his mouth and the weather-beaten motorcar that he drove. This car was reputed to be held together not only by bolts and nuts but also by bits of wire and ingenuity. Its outside was sometimes covered by a fine layer of dust, and the inside always had a scattering of tobacco flakes. If anyone asked him about his car his usual reply was: "It has a very good engine".

A man totally devoted to the Faculty, he always kept an open office and was always accessible to teachers, non-academic staff and students. He believed in moderation in all things. His desk was usually covered with papers which resembled a pile of raked leaves. Nevertheless he seemed to be able to lay his hands on any document he wanted.

A few years ago when I was collecting material for a history of the Faculty, one of the office files that I looked into contained a few sheets of his lecture notes filed, neatly but mistakenly, by his faithful clerk, on his instructions.

It was an idiosyncrasy of his that he was averse to putting up sign-boards - even one indicating the Dean's Office. Right through his Deanship of nearly twenty years he operated from an unmarked room. A kindly man, he readily accepted any excuse given by a student to explain his failure to submit his coursework in time.

His sympathy and help could always be counted upon in full measure by sportsmen and those having health or financial problems. It was once said that Prof. Pereira sometimes confused the functions of the Faculty of Engineering with those of the Salvation Army!

Prof. R.H. Paul was the most experienced teacher in the team. He had begun his career at the CTC in the 1930s, on his return from Cambridge, and had built up the laboratory facilities in Electrical Engineering. He retired as Director of the College in early 1950, and joined the university staff a few months later. He had a very alert mind with an interest in a wide range of technical matters outside his own field of Electrical Engineering. I have heard him keenly discussing the merits of different types of carburettors and on one occasion the finer points of the Laws of Thermodynamics.

He was also inclined to do lateral thinking in day-to-day Faculty matters and arrive at totally unexpected and out-of-phase conclusions. He was indeed an unpredictable man.

Mr. P.H.D. Wikramaratna ('PH.') was an experienced teacher who had done much of the pioneering work in the Civil Engineering laboratories at the CTC around the time the "provisional recognition" was sought. He had carried a very heavy teaching load and had a formidable reputation when he left the College in 1946 to join the staff of the Battersea Polytechnic, London.

He joined the Faculty in 1950 and brought useful teaching experience gained abroad. A man deeply concerned with student welfare, he was also a strict disciplinarian. He insisted on student punctuality at lectures. On one occasion he spotted a student quietly slipping into a classroom, a minute or two late. "Please close the door", commanded PH. The much-relieved student walked back to the door and closed it. "What I meant was, close the door from outside", clarified PH.

When he gave problems to be done in the classroom those who hadn't brought their slide rules were curtly ordered to leave; students who failed to submit coursework on time were given short shrift. His insistence on coursework discipline led to an amusing incident which was recounted to me some time later.

One morning PH was rushing to the Faculty by taxi for his 8 o'clock lecture when he spotted an engineering student waiting for a bus. PH stopped the taxi and offered a lift, which the student accepted with some hesitation. A few minutes after their arrival in the Faculty PH walked into his classroom, and before commencing his lecture, read out a short list of names. These students were summarily ordered to leave as they had not submitted their coursework reports. Among them was the beneficiary of the morning's taxi-ride.

An interesting personality was Mr. H.B. de Silva who had once served in the Survey Department. A friendly, effervescent man, always exuding bonhomie, he had a repertoire of entertaining anecdotes which he re-counted at our gatherings. He also introduced his own brand of spicy humour into his teaching of Surveying, which many would regard as a dull subject.

The teaching of Engineering Drawing did nor nave any takers. Although the Faculty had competent teachers of the subject, they had their hands with other subjects. So, the Dean obtained the part-time services of Mr. A. Ragunather, Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the CTC, and his able assistant Mr. N.M.R. de Silva. An affable man with a roly-poly figure, "Ragu" had been regarded as a “character" at the CTC.

He was well-known for his blunt and even coarse language, and his rough and sometimes scatological humour in dealing with student questions that he thought were foolish or frivolous. That was considered acceptable banter which even found a resonance at the Tech where he had lectured for many years. But our freshmen, straight from school, took some time to get used to him. It was said by some students that he "taught Engineering Drawing through Anatomy". Professor Pereira, too, remarked that the lecturer from "the other place" had a lively approach to Engineering Drawing, judging by the laughter that emanated from his classroom.

Partial Relocation in a Second Home

In October1952 the formal transfer of the University of Ceylon to Peradeniya took place although the construction work in the Campus was not complete.

The numerous constructional delays had exasperated and frustrated the VC who decided that enough was enough. The Faculties of Arts, and Oriental Studies together with the Main Library and the University administration moved out of Thurstan Road and set out on their "long march" to the hills. In the space thus freed the Faculty of Engineering set up its office, staff rooms, lecture rooms and drawing office. Some temporary buildings were also put up, two of them for our Engineering Workshop which was considered urgent.

We regarded these arrangements as being of a temporary nature, and none could have guessed that it would take 12 frustrating years for the shift to Peradeniya to materialise.

All the lectures were at Thurstan Road in the mornings 8-12, and the staff and students then made their way to the CTC for laboratory classes in the afternoon 1.30-4.30. It was hard on the students, many of whom came back to Thurstan Road by 5 p.m. for their sports.

In spite of the dreary and demanding working conditions the morale of the Faculty was very high and we did produce some very high calibre graduates who have done very well at home and abroad in their professional careers.

By the end of 1952, I was granted probationary study leave and in March 1953 1 set out for Britain to work for my Ph.D. The period of two and a half years as a junior member of the staff, with all its changes and chances, had given me valuable preparatory training which would stand me in good stead in my long career. It had been a big step forward from the harsh conditions of all work and no play at the CTC where only the fittest students survived.

Those early years on the staff were my spring of hope, and they will always remain in sharper focus in my memories then the less exciting and even less rewarding recent past.

The End

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Professor Mahalingam Memories (Part VI) - Annual survey camp

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Part I - The New Faculty
Part II - Our First Home
Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon
Part IV - Working in the Faculty
Part V - A change of department

Annual survey camp

One of the highlights of student activity in the Civil Engineering Department was the annual survey camp for the Fourth Year students. It was held at Diyatalawa which, apart from the salubrious climate, offered many attractive physical features for surveying exercises. There were hills, valleys, streams, roads, railways, culverts, tunnels, buildings and even distance triangulation stations.

All these could be surveyed without the hindrance and obstruction of curious spectators and road traffic. It was not surprising that the Survey Department had established a permanent presence there many years ago with its Training School and substantial technical facilities.

Our camp was usually held during the university vacation in the first three weeks of December when fair weather usually prevailed in the area. About three junior staff members and about the same number of Instructors were required to assist Mr. H.B. de Silva ('H.B.') who was the Lecturer in the subject.

I went to my first camp as a teacher in December 1950 and continued to do so in subsequent years, even after leaving the Civil Engineering Department. The number of students in the camp was around 25. The Ceylon Technical College had made a standing arrangement with the Army for the use of parts of its under-utilised barracks for the survey camp. The Army generously provided two huts for students, one hut with rooms for the staff, a dining hall and a kitchen. It also supplied beds, mattresses, pillows and blankets. The Faculty of Engineering was able to secure the same arrangements. Staff and students always looked forward to this annual event which was really a working holiday in the hills.

Field work in a friendly climate, with set quotas of work and deadlines brings about a surprising transformation of the attitudes of students. We had five students in a group and about 4 or 5 groups. They set about their work with remarkable enthusiasm and diligence; no prodding was necessary. Students left the camp at about 7am and worked till about 4pm., with a short break for lunch. Some even opted to work on Sundays. Relaxation for students in the evenings was walks, sight-seeing and pictures. A few who had the money went to the surveyors' club to seek bottled beer and high spirits.

In one of the camps I went to there was an incident which did not reflect well on us. When we were in the camp, a very senior officer of the Surveyor Department was on a brief visit to his Diyatalawa office. He had been in London little earlier to attend a special course in Aerial Surveying and Mapping. He told H.B. that he would be glad to give a talk to our staff and students on this subject. The only mutually convenient time was 4 p.m. on Saturday, and the venue was the Surveying School.

None of us was happy about the choice of time as most people usually had their own plans for relaxation on Saturday evenings. Nevertheless we managed to muster a sufficient number of staff and students for the lecture for which the lecturer had come well prepared with slides. The talk was unfortunately pitched well above the heads of the listeners, and it soon became evident that the audience had lost interest. Some were listlessly shuffling the while others were looking out through the windows. The lecturer must have observed all this, but he pressed on regardless. The lecture finally came to an end after about one hour or so, and questions were invited from the audience. There were none. Having noted this negative response, the lecturer said sadly: "I do not know if you gentlemen have learnt anything from this lecture, but I have learnt something. I have learnt how easy it is for a man to make a fool of himself in public”. It had been an unfortunate affair in which we had hurt the feelings of a kindly, well-meaning man.

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Final parts

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

(image: cannot visit the page to get link)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A change of department - Professor Mahalingam Memories (Part V)

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Part I - The New Faculty
Part II - Our First Home
Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon
Part IV - Working in the Faculty

Part V – A change of department

I began my teaching career in the Department of Civil Engineering and was assigned the usual quota of supporting duties in the four subjects taught by the department. After I had been in service for a few months, the Dean spoke to me about a pressing staffing problem in the Faculty.

It was in the Department of Mechanical Engineering which was unable to recruit a qualified teacher in the subject of Theory of Machines, which is now called Mechanics of Machines.

Incredible it may seem, there wasn't a single Ceylonese Mechanical Engineering graduate in the country outside the university, so that there was no possibility of getting even a Visiting Lecturer to tide over the immediate crisis. The CTC, too, had been confronted by the same intractable problem and in consequence the subject had been taught at the Part I level only, the lecturer being an Electrical Engineering graduate!

Prof. Pereira suggested to me that if I could sit the papers in Applied Thermodynamics and Theory of Machines – two in each subject - in the University of London Part I1 Examination in June 1951 and passed them, I would become a Mechanical Engineering graduate, and could be absorbed into the Mechanical Engineering Department.

He said I should have no difficulty with Applied Thermodynamics as lectures were being given in the Faculty with supporting laboratory work. As for Theory of Machines I would have to teach myself the subject and also set myself Machine Design exercises for coursework. (There was no laboratory work in the subject in those days). As in the subject of "Theory of Structures" the coursework was entirely Design. For self instruction I would have to depend mainly on the limited library facilities available.

I thought the proposal was a worthwhile challenge and accepted it. Of course, it entailed a great deal of hard work, as I also had my normal quota of departmental duties. Among the topics I taught myself during this period was "Mechanical Vibration" in which I have since developed a life-long interest.

In due course I passed the examinations, and joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering, doubling its strength in the process.

When I joined the Mechanical Engineering Department in 1951 1 was a young and inexperienced Assistant Lecturer thrown into the deep end. But the work was different and interesting. I spent my vacations in the CGR workshops at Ratmalana to gain practical experience of Mechanical Engineering. It was a hectic time for all of us, but we had the satisfaction of moving forward with steady gains, which we hoped would endure.

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part VI - Annual survey camp

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Working in the Faculty (Professor Mahalingam's memories - Part IV)

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Part I - The New Faculty
Part II - Our First Home
Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon

Part IV - Working in the Faculty

At the time I joined the staff the Faculties of Medicine and engineering were considered professional faculties and the academic staff were paid higher salaries than those paid to staff in the other faculties; the professors in the Faculty of Engineering, for instance, were paid a special allowance of 25 per cent of basic salary for loss of private practice. Of course the academics were expected to be professionals with charters from one of the three major professional institutions in London. This required a graduate to go through a training programme of 2-3 years in field/industry, sometimes referred to as "Graduate Apprenticeship", and in due course all of us had obtained this qualification. I got my training in two engineering firms in England and I consider it an enriching experience and a valuable part of my training for teaching and research. It also rewarded me with the MIMechE.

The university was a hierarchical organisation at that time and the Professor was also the administrative Head of his department; the question of giving up the headship could not arise. Internal problems were sorted out in informal departmental discussions, and the Dean held occasional staff meetings of which no minutes were kept. The Faculty Board met once in about three months and the agenda was strictly confined to matters that came within the purview of the Board. The VC was always present at these meetings which seldom took more than 15 minutes.
The Faculty office had only one clerk, while the clerical work in the departments was done by a laboratory assistant.

There were three departments: Civil, Electrical and Mechanical. An Assistant Lecturer in Engineering Mathematics did all the lecturing in the subject, and he was attached to the Department of Civil Engineering. Owing to the pressure on space at the CTC, the First Year students were sent to the Faculty of Science where they followed the conventional Physical
Sciences course together with two engineering subjects – Engineering Drawing and Workshop Practice - for which they had classes at the CTC. However, it was not all smooth sailing in the early days at the CTC.

Although there had been an understanding with the CTC authorities that their laboratory staff would continue to do the work they had been doing for the London External Degree classes, their cooperation was not readily forthcoming. The technical staff appeared to be sullen, lackadaisical and prone to absenteeism. The cause of this "ergophobia" or allergy to work was quickly diagnosed, and the VC offered special allowances for Tech teachers and technical staff involved in the university classes. This solved the problem and restored harmony and goodwill at the CTC.

We worked five and half days a week and my time table gave me six hours of class room work (Lectures/Tutorials) and 15 hours laboratory work for a week. This was the norm at that time.
The Mechanical Engineering Department had only two staff members and we managed to keep the courses going without crying for help. The classes were usually small and all members of the academic staff participated in laboratory work. Most of the marking of coursework was done in the laboratory itself. The number of instructors in each department was about five and they were required to assist in the demonstration of laboratory work, but not in marking coursework.

Since our annual intake was only 25 in the first few years the quality of the students was high. They had gained admission entirely on merit via written papers, practicals and an interview; they had not been corrupted by the pernicious “tutory” system. Almost all of them were from the large urban schools they all spoke fluent English and made full use of the limited library facilities we had. Classes were very lively and students did not hesitate to provoke discussion of obscure points in the lectures. Their methods of study and preparation for examinations were conventional, and "kuppi classes" were unheard of.

We had two sets of examinations to contend with. There were three batches of students who had been taken over from the CTC. They had to be prepared for the University of London examinations which would be held in 1951 and 1952. The arrangement would be completed with a special Part I1 examination in 1953. In all, 92 students graduated in these three years and then sadly the curtain came down on the London External Degree in Ceylon, which had been a boon to many of us.

In the matter of setting our own examination papers the Faculty staff were lacking in experience and expertise. Fortunately we were able to obtain assistance from the University of London which recommended some of their experienced teachers as External Examiners, and I found their guidance very valuable. They always sent us detailed comments on the draft question papers and suggestions for improving them. 1 leant a great deal from them.

For a small faculty we had a disproportionately large number of good sportsmen. I recall that in 1956 a Mechanical Engineering student captained the All-Ceylon Football team. Although Sir Ivor Jennings was apologetic about the limited sports facilities provided to students in these years, when "all the sports activities except swimming took place on a pocket handkerchief at Thurstan Road which was totally inadequate for a University College of 500 students", commendable standards were displayed in sports.

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part V - A change of department

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Early years of the University of Ceylon - Professor S Mahalingam's memories - Part III

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Part I - The New Faculty
Part II - Our First Home

Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon

In 1950 the University of Ceylon was spread across the city at three centres. The main body of the University was at Thurstan Road, its seat being the old Ceylon University College founded in 1921. Three Faculties -Arts, Oriental Studies and Science - the main library and the university administration were located there. The Faculty of Medicine was at Kynsey Road, close to the General Hospital, Colombo, while the Faculty of Engineering the youngest of the five faculties was at the CTC. The common man usually referred to the Thurstan Road complex as "The University".

The University of Ceylon was relatively small in those years. When it was established in 1942 it had four faculties and 904 students. With steady expansion taking place, particularly after the end of the war in 1945, the total student population rose to about 1500 by 1950. In spite of its tender age and small size it was already gaining a reputation for its academic standards. It enjoyed a high public esteem and there were a few academic staff who had resigned from the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) to join the University staff. Much of the planning of the infrastructure of university education and administration was in the capable hands of Sir Ivor Jennings as none of the academic staff had had any experience of university management. He had come to Ceylon from the London School of Economics and was already the author of eleven books. In spite of the heavy load imposed on him by the dismally slow pace of the Peradeniya scheme, he was also writing books in Ceylon. At the time we came into contact with him he was already LLD (Lond), DLitt (Cantab) and his formidable presence was an inspiration to the junior staff members. Some of the senior staff members were not far behind him. The faculty of Science had two of its staff with, DSc (Lond) while the Arts and Oriental Studies had one DLitt (Lond) each. Those of us who had grown up in the sleepy, uninspiring and stifling environment of the CTC found the university environment very stimulating. Most of the academic staff we came to know had very good first degrees and commendable records of post-graduate research.

"The University is not a Government Department nor is it organised like one", wrote Sir Ivor Jennings in 1948. Its administration was indeed compact and efficient. It consisted of the VC, a Registrar and two Assistant Registrars, one of whom, having had training in Printing, was also the Manager of the Ceylon University Press. All the printing work such as the university publications, stationery and question papers handled by the Press which also undertook the binding of books and periodicals. The Main Library had one Librarian and two Assistant Librarians.

The General Office was run by a Chief Clerk and about 10-15 clerks; there was no Bursar. This little office handled the entire work relating to finance, establishment, general administration and also the Peradeniya Scheme.

A Parkinsonian proliferation of staff was set in later with a predictable loss of efficiency and reliability. As rar as my recollection goes the university did enjoy the luxury of official motor vehicles. The VC was often seen getting around the university grounds on foot, and when he went outside the university complex he drove his own elderly car.

A facet of university life in those years still remains clear in my memory. It happened at the end of my first month of service in the University, and I had gone to the university office to collect my pay-cheque. The office was on the first floor of College House where the offices of the VC and the other administrators were located. I obtained my cheque with a mere verbal self-identification, and walked out reading the particulars written on it. Somewhere I had taken the wrong turn and suddenly I found myself in the VC’s balcony. Sir Ivor was deeply absorbed in what he was writing and I noticed a number of bound volumes, open and propped up in front of him. I hadn't obviously disturbed him, and I tiptoed out of the place quickly. I did not realise at that time that I would never again see a VC in our university doing academic work.

The circulars sent out by Sir Ivor Jennings were sometimes enlivened by dry humour and irony of the British Senior Common Room type. I recall that when J.V. Stalin, the great leader of the Soviet Union, died in February 1953 the President of the Students' Union wrote to the VC requesting a special university holiday as a mark of respect to the great man. The VC circulated his reply which went something like this:
“The Vice-Chancellor would consider granting of a special holiday when the death has occurred of (a) a distinguished senior member of the staff, (b) an eminent public figure who has been closely associated with the university and (c) a distinguished alumnus of the University.

The late Soviet leader did not come under category (a) or (b). As for category (c), I have gone through the Register of Graduates very carefully and I failed to see the name J.V. Stalin in it".
I also recall the Vice-chancellor once wrote to the students' Union to point out that there was no need to put up posters and placards during their election campaigns in which they were canvassing what was probably "the most educated electorate in the country". He felt that such displays were a gratuitous insult to the intelligence of the undergraduates. I do not think the students took serious note of this gratuitous advice from a foreigner on what had become accepted national practice since the advent of adult franchise.

A much respected and admired academic, Sir Ivor was easily accessible to staff and students who had special problems requiring his personal attention. The "employer-employee" relationship between the VC and the staff, which developed in a later administration, was totally alien to his thinking. I have seen him at University Teachers' Association (UTA) meetings in the Senior Common Room having a cup of tea and joining in the discussions. He did not see the need to conduct himself any differently from what he would have done in Britain.

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part IV - Working in the Faculty

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Professor S Mahalingam's memories - Part II

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Read: Part I - The New Faculty

Part II - Our First Home

All our work was done at the Ceylon Technical College in Maradana for the first two and half years. Like most Technical Colleges in Britain, it was located in the heart of the city, close to the centres of transport and commerce, within easy reach of the part-time students enrolled in its numerous Day and Evening, sub-professional courses.

Its main division, its flagship and pride had been the full-time, four-year degree course leading to the external degree of the University of London. As it happened I had the dubious, distinction of being in the last batch of students to complete the course before disaster overtook the institution.

The college was situated in a triangular block of land bounded by busy roads on two sides, and by a canal with stagnant water and a lock-gate on the third. Its front entrance lay on the main highway which carried tram and bus services. On the other side of this road there was a busy railway yard in which rolling stock rattled incessantly.

In consequence, a high level of noise prevailed right through the day, pierced at frequent intervals by the shrieking whistles of the exuberant steam locomotives going about their shunting in the yard.

The total absence of floral vegetation added to the general bleakness of the place. It was a cheerless industrial environment and not an academic one. But I had got used to it during my four-years as an undergraduate.

The college had its origins in a Government Technical School founded in 1893 for the training of sub-professional grades, and had gone through many vicissitudes some of which had threatened its very existence. Its growth had been haphazard, and buildings had been constructed or modified as and when land was acquired and money was available. Some of the laboratory buildings, for instance, had been garages used by the CGR to park its lorries, and continued to retain their functional appearance. Not visible, however, was the insidious red tape in which the administration of the College was totally enmeshed.

Engineering education began to spread in the Western universities about 150 years ago, but it was only in 1942 that it arrived in Ceylon when the CTC obtained "provisional recognition" for preparing students for the external degree of the University of London. But the College did not have the human and material resources for this undertaking, and the recognition faced a breakdown in December 1949.

The Ministry of Education was deeply concerned at these distressing developments and, there being no viable alternative solution, decided to close down the degree programme at the ailing CTC and ask the University of Ceylon to set up its Faculty of Engineering, which had been on the cards for some years. This decision led to the four-month frantic activity to meet the deadline of 1 July 1950.

Read Part III:
Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Growing up in the Lower Ranks - Professor Mahalingam’s memories of Faculty of Engineering

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Part I - The New Faculty

The event was not given any publicity in the press as the university authorities did not consider it an occasion for drum-beating. It was regarded as just another step in the advancement of higher education.

The Faculty of Engineering was born on 1 July 1950 after a period of gestation of only four months, during which a team of 12 academic staff and a batch of 25 freshmen were assembled. The Faculty was also required to take charge of three batches of students - 189 in all - from the defunct Ceylon Technical College (CTC, “Tech”), and enable them to complete their courses of study.

These extraordinary developments were brought about by the sudden collapse of the courses at the CTC, where students had been prepared for the external degree of the University of London for eight years (1942-50) under a "provisional recognition".

The facilities made available to the new Faculty were the classrooms and laboratories of the CTC and three of its staff rooms. One of these rooms became the Dean's Office, and he shared it with a clerk, a telephone, a typewriter and a filing cabinet. The other rooms had desks, each being shared by two senior staff.

The junior staff were an un-anchored floating population who drifted around the laboratories and the senior common room. Due to the shortness of notice some of the staff, seven were not able to report for duty on the first day, and I was one of those present.

I have vivid memories of that dull July morning with overcast skies, waiting for the Dean to arrive. There was to be no opening ceremony; no lighting of the traditional oil lamp and no making of speeches that are so commonplace these days.

Prof. E.O.E. Pereira arrived, lit his pipe, took a couple of contented puffs, and informed us that the new Faculty was in business, and that work could commence according to the time-tables already issued.

About a week later I saw the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the University of Ceylon, Sir Ivor Jennings, inspecting the place in the company of Prof. Pereira. Having seen the closely constructed main buildings and the cluster of small, gloomy, ill-ventilated laboratories, he declared dejectedly that there was not enough room to swing a cat in. This was the unappealing and cramped environment that the staff of the new Faculty had to work in, and it made us eagerly look forward to the day when we would have a permanent home of our own with more civilised facilities.

As a low-ranking member of the staff - the "academic proletariat" - my working conditions were, by present-day standards, difficult and demanding. Yet I still have nostalgic memories of those heady days where one had the exhilarating feeling of participating in a pioneering venture which had a clear sense of purpose, direction and goals.

Read Part II:
Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part II - Our first home

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Professor and a Gentleman - In Memory of Professor S Mahalingam

A Professor and a Gentleman

A professor and a gentleman ‐ truly was he,
A man of true compassion ‐ who else would kinder, be?
Havin’ mastered his art with greatest passion ‐ renowned became he
In world’s great missions, ev’n a minnow ‐ who has the luck to be?

Hailing from humble origins, though ‐ with loads of determination,
Rising o’er highest mountain’s peak ‐ in the world of vibration  
Emerging from the lit’le‐known Ceylon ‐ to heights of inter‐nation
All through his hard and ethical work ‐ unmatchable imagination  

His suit, his stride, his convos or lectures – overflowing with discipline
You better not attend this don’s classes ‐ if you’re not there when they begin
One by another, ‘quations unfold ‐ always a new phenomenon
The man who bettered Holzer’s Table ‐ No more! Our hearts sadden’.

With least of his students, he willingly had ‐ his precious time to spare
Our pains, complains or things unfair ‐ with him we could always share
A generous heart full of compassion ‐ he would always care
For subject matter, his awesome passion ‐ to unspeak, who would dare?

Oh! Beautiful hills and valleys of Pera, at Hanthana's foothills,
For half century’s span, in shine or rain, as the evening unveils,
The gentle man that strolled your lanes, how sadly, do you miss?
In the presence of the Lord, eternally, May He Rest in Peace!

In Loving Memory of Prof. S Mahalingam  

Jude Parakrama Fernando – E/83 (Mechanical Engineering)
03 November 2015

Read Professor Mahalingam's memories about his early years at the Faculty of Engineering from the following page: