Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Yes of course I do!" said Professor Mahalingam

(This is part 2 of an article written by Rasika Suriyaarachchi. Read Part 1:

Despite being there at Peradeniya for four years and despite being lectured by him in my second and fourth years, unfortunately, I have had only two opportunities of talking with Mahalingam.

The first of those instances was in the last few weeks of my final year of studies.

During out time, it was mandatory for final year students to study a set of five subjects. Industrial Engineering was the only common subject for all of engineering undergraduates and for those who were specialising in Mechanical Engineering and Production Engineering, there were about 30 of us, Mechanics of Machines lectured by Mahalingam was a compulsory subject.

In addition to the five mandatory subjects, those who wish to pass with honours in Engineering, ie, get a "class", were required to take up two minor subjects known as the B-course. As these were usually extensions of mandatory subjects, the lectures for these B-course subjects usually start once the course proper, ie, A-course, were over and done with towards the end of third term of the academic year.

Two subjects I picked were Production Cost Control offered by the Department of Production Engineering and Operational Research and Statistics offered by the Department of Engineering Mathematics.

Then, with just a week or so left in the academic year, Mahalingam announced one day that lectures for his A-course subject are over and he is offering a B-course subject on Mechanics of Machines from next week with probably a few extra lectures at the end. He wanted to know how many would be registering for this subject.

No one raised their hands.

As I said previously, even though there were perhaps a maximum of 15 students attending on a given day, there were about 30 students in the cohort for Mahalingam's A-course. Out of this group perhaps there were six or seven students who were interested in taking up two B-courses in order to pass with honours. Obviously, all of them had already picked their two subjects and were attending lecturers for a couple of weeks now.

Mahalingam looked annoyed to say the least. He announced that for the first time in his teaching career he sees a cohort of mechanical engineering students with none wanting to take his B-course. This means, in his mind that no one is aiming to graduate with a class.

At that point, a lone hand was raised. That was Sandhya, the only girl in the Mechanical Engineering group. There was one girl, Vajirapani, in the Production Engineering group as well. She and I already had Operations Research from the department of mathematics and production cost analysis from department of productions engineering selected as our B-course subjects, just like me.

Mahalingam who had already packed up his teaching paraphernalia, left the class room suddenly. Obviously in disgust!

I too rushed out to the corridor and rushed after him as I wanted to put the record straight.

“All of us who want to take up the B-course subjects have already done so a few weeks back Sir”, I told him with due respect, “and we had no idea until today that you will be offering a subject as well.”

He appeared to understand the situation but again said that he has offered this B-course subject every year in the past and this is perhaps going to be the first year where it is not!

My second opportunity to interact with Mahalingam came up nearly seven years after the first instance.

I went to the Faculty premises on that day to see the Engineering Exhibition and saw a group of academics including Ranaweera and Mahalingam and some office bearers of the PEFAA in the middle of that famous corridor. Ranaweera saw me and said hello. He was the dean those days and knew me a bit because of my involvement with PEFAA as a committee member.

I stopped there for a brief chat. Ranaweera then introduced to me to Mahalingam asking "This is Rasika. He graduated a few years back. You remember him, right?"
"Yes of course I do!" said Mahalingam.

Now, whether he knew me as a student in his Mechanics of Machines class seven years back or he simply pretended that he remembers me with good intentions, I don’t know for sure.

But it does not matter at all.

Adios Professor, rest in peace!

-Rasika Suriyaarachchi [E/81/214]


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