By Kumar David –
In the 1950s the GCE A-Level was thought to be a challenging hurdle and few candidates obtained A-grades in all four subjects – those seeking university entrance (there was only one university) offered three or four subjects. Those admitted in July 1959 sat A-levels in December 1958, I think only five in the whole Island secured four A-grades. One was Sivaguru Ganesan of Jaffna Hindu College who entered the prestigious Engineering Faculty of the University of Ceylon then located at Reid Avenue at the head of a 13 strong Jaffna Hindu contingent. More significant was that Ganesan was the only LSSP Full Party Member among the schoolboys admitted in 1959. Despite my longer left pedigree I was a Candidate Member who secured Full Membership only in my freshman year. Membership of the LSSP carried prestige in that bygone era. Ganesan’s early mentor in Marxism and Trotskyism was the much admired Panudevan who steered many young men from Jaffna in that direction for a period of about 30 years.
Ganesan was politically active in the university and three of us Ganesan, Wijedoru and I led the Colombo University’s left, synonymous with Samasamajist, caucus of the time. Doru and Ganesan were distracted into card game diversions in their sophomore year to the damage of their academic attainments though both were very bright and capable. Doru with his impulsive character and extrovert personality became the de facto mascot of the Class of 1963. Ganesan has been described as a unique personality unassuming and friendly, liked by all. Those were the days my friend that we thought would never end!
Sivaguru Ganesan was deeply troubled by the plight of the Tamils from the time the ethnic conflict turned violent. Previously he was satisfied with the Parity of Status demand but it became increasingly clear to all of us young leftists that the Sri Lankan masses was unwilling to go that way. He never supported or associated with the LTTE and firmly opposed terrorism but he understood that the Tigers was putting up a last ditch fight for Tamil rights. Ganesan, another comrade Kuhan and I developed a basic document in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s that became an important feeder into the Thimpu discussions.
Sivaguru was born in Malaysia in March 1942 during a Japanese bombing raid. He was such a large baby that his mother was proud she managed the delivery unaided – she fondly called him her little elephant. His father was a businessman, what you might call a small time private banker. As a child Sivaguru loved food. He had a stammer till the age of 12 and was an active playful child. His father, keen on education did not encourage sports so he was privately educated although he won a scholarship to state school. He won prizes in primary and junior school and his A-Level maths result I have been told ranked first among all-island candidates. A family member described Ganesan as a person of infinite patience with deep compassion for all and generous to a fault. At every stage of life he carried a heavy cross bravely and showed deep concern for friends and relatives in difficulties.
After graduation he pulled himself out of the rut of academic neglect of and excelled again. He served as an Assistant Secretary in Pieter Keuneman’s Housing Ministry in the early 1970s at which time he was more attracted to the Communist Party than the LSSP. He decided to resume a full-time academic career and registered for a Master’s course in the Department of Architecture at University of Tokyo and followed it up with a PhD at the University College, London. He completely switched careers into academia and joined the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Hong Kong. At the time of his retirement he had risen to a professorship. While in Hong Kong he published a widely used and widely referenced book on building construction.
Sivaguru Ganesan passed away in Colombo due to a cardiac condition on 6 March 2021. He will be much missed by his grieving family, his engineering faculty buddies and his loyal comrades.