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)


  1. A photos of Prof Dr. Mahalingam with Prof. K. S. Walgama and Dr. A. Atputharajah Taken last year (2014 Sept) in his residence

  2. Prof. Mahalingam was in much better shape, both physically and mentally when we visited him in Nov 2014 at Alaveddy residence.

    Sarath Seneviratne


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