29 September, 2021

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My Indelible Memories Of The Past & Of Professor C L V (Lakshman) Jayathilake

By Lionel Bopage

Dr. Lionel Bopage

I am extremely saddened by the news I heard this morning, that Emeritus Professor C L V (Lakshman) Jayathilake, a fellow of the Institute of Engineers, Sri Lanka, has succumbed to Covid and passed away.

He has impacted my life in many ways on several occasions. When I was studying at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, he was a lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering Department. I was studying for a Mechanical and Electrical combined degree in engineering, a rare combination at the time.

Even in my pre-adolescent life, my interests in science and engineering ran parallel with my interests in politics. Since my childhood, I had wanted to be an engineer. At the same time, I was actively involved in politics of the left within the school and outside of it. In a way, it would have been my obsession with the materialist way of thinking that helped, not inconsiderably, my scientific thinking patterns.

Lakshman Jayathilake

At the university, I was an active member of the Socialist Society, led by comrade Nihal Dias, originally affiliated with the Ceylon Communist Party (Peking Wing) that was led by comrade Nagalingam Shanmugathasan. Later, due to the efforts of many of us, including late comrade Sarath Wijesinghe, the Socialist Society became non-party affiliated, but was still heavily influenced by Maoist political thoughts. As usual, I spent most of my extra time with those in the Arts and Science Faculties, mostly on the other side of the famous Akbar bridge linking the two banks of the Mahaweli river that runs through the campus grounds. At the same time, I was a diligent student, attending my lectures and doing my coursework.

Dr Jayathilake was our Thermodynamics lecturer. He held a BSc (Engineering) First Class Honours, a postgraduate Diploma of Imperial College and a PhD from the Imperial College, London.

One day, he called me into his office. I thought it had something to do with my attendance to lectures or coursework performance. Unexpectedly, he directly discussed my involvement in politics. He asked me why I was involved in politics. I clarified my thoughts and explained that although I could achieve many things in life as an individual, we could and should not forget the suffering of our fellow human beings. At the time, his way of thinking and mine did not coincide.

He thought, as an engineering student, I should not get involved in politics, mainly because engineers did not have an employment problem. Engineers would have employment opportunities for the years to come, was his view. I differed, and cited the medical students who had graduated and were still unemployed. In particular, Dr Jayathilake did not like me getting politically involved with the students in the Faculty of Arts. Late comrade Sarath Justin Fernando and I had assisted a strike led by the students of the Arts, Medical and Agriculture faculties. The strike was in support of several HSC students whose university admission was granted first, who were then replaced with some others who had received lower marks. The only engineering students who had supported the strike in public were the two of us and a few others. The faculty administration was not impressed with our political stand, obviously.

Dr Jayathilake knew that he was unable to convince me to give up politics, and had spoken to Professor Selvadurai Mahalingam, who used to take our Mechanics of Machines lectures. We used to call him “Mr Vibration”. Despite his nickname, he was a well-recognised professional with a first-class in BSc (Engineering), a PhD from the University of Sheffield and a DSc (Engineering) from the University of London. He warned me that I should give up politics, and in a threatening way, told me that I should either do politics or become an engineer. A similar but gentle warning came from Professor J C V Chinnappa, who was the Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the time. I thought Professor Chinnappa displayed more empathy towards our stand.

In 1971, the government at the time set up controversial legislation in the form of the Criminal Justice Commissions (CJC) Act, to convict us by reversing the principles of natural Justice applicable then. The CJC allowed evidence that would have otherwise been inadmissible in a court of law, and shifted the legal burden of proof away from the prosecution on to the accused. The findings or sentences of the CJC were final and non-appealable. It was a political trial rather than a legal one.

During the proceedings, I decided to sit for the BSC Engineering Final Part II papers. I had completed all my engineering coursework, but not sat for the final exam. I knew, once convicted, it would take some time for us to gain our freedom. So, I made a request to Mr Bandula de Silva, who served as the Secretary to the CJC, to grant me permission to study for the final examination, and to advise the prison authorities to provide me the facilities to receive textbooks and any other assistance that were needed.

I cannot pass without mentioning with gratitude the assistance provided by late comrade M B Ratnayake, attorney at law, one time leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, in helping me pursue my studies. He used to go to the People’s Publishing House in Colombo affiliated with the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (Moscow-wing) to buy relevant engineering textbooks in Applied Thermodynamics, Mathematics, Mechanics of Machines, Strength & Elasticity of Materials and Electrical Power. Those textbooks were all Russian publications, but cheaper to buy, and they all had the relevant syllabus material that used Russian symbols.

Yet, I did not have enough resources, such as thermodynamic tables, drawing instruments and slide rules etc. So, I wrote to the Dean of the Engineering Faculty- at the time it was Professor J C V Chinnappa. I did not get a response, but after several weeks, I received a pocket slide rule, tables of thermodynamic properties and a short note from Dr Jayathilake to say that if I needed anything else, to feel free to contact him. I know that nowadays they do not use slide rules and hard copy enthalpy entropy tables in engineering calculations due to digitisation, but I still keep them with me as memorabilia of my past and as a testament to the kindness of Dr Jayathilake.

Sometime in 1982, I handed over all my books, including the engineering text books I used while in prison and all my other books on literature and politics, to the Jaffna Library. Books were being collected in Colombo to replace the intellectual resources lost in 1981, when the Jaffna Public Library was set on fire by the goons organised by the government of the day.

When the CJC Act was repealed in 1977, we were released from prison. During one of my visits to Kandy, I visited the Engineering Faculty. Professor Jayathilake was the Dean of the Faculty then. We sat down for about two hours in his office, had tea and discussed the past and the politics. He revealed many aspects of his life during this memorable conversation; how he went to school somewhere in Agalawatte without shoes; that his father served as a liyana mahaththaya (a clerk) of a lawyer in the area. He explained how he got through the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination and subsequently got admitted to the Royal College in Colombo. His brother is Mr Bhadraji Mahinda Jayatilaka, a novelist, vocalist, and artist now residing in California, USA.

Even then he was very much interested in reforming the system of education in Sri Lanka. We had divergent views, his were reformist, mine were more systemic. Yet, he had an extensive understanding of the many issues that were prevailing in Sri Lanka. His knowledge about the correlations between the system of education, the issue of employment and youth discontent was broad. His fluency in Sinhala was excellent. However, later on, he associated closely with the regimes in power and was responsible for administering many institutions.

He had had a stellar career. He was made Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya, then Dean of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Ruhuna, Chancellor of Wayamba University of Sri Lanka and Chancellor and Chair of the National Institute of Business Management.  He had also served as Director General of the National Institute of Education and Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technical Education. Then he served as Chair of the National Education Commission and the Presidential Commission on Youth. In the sphere of education, he proposed many reforms, but most of those reforms are yet to be implemented.

We had intermittent meetings and discussions in between. He wanted me to come and work for him, but I did not have much trust in the system he was working under, despite his keenness and sincere desire to do something constructive for the betterment of education and the difficult conditions the youth were facing and still sadly are.

Prior to the Presidential Elections in 2019, we started communicating with each other more frequently than before. He was a passionate, compassionate and energetic person. He wanted to contribute to the National Intellectuals Organisation (NIO) and the Jathika Jana Balawegaya (NPP). His close associate in this process was comrade J U Premasiri of the 1971 අප්‍රේල් සංසදය (April 1971 Forum). He invited me to work together to make this effort more successful. My emphasis was on making a viable third political alternative, that the people could place their trust on; an alternative- committed to working towards a better Sri Lanka by empowering everybody regardless of rank, income, culture or language to achieve social and economic justice.

While at the faculty of Engineering, our views were divergent, but over time I believe he came to better understand my political activism and position. Yes, we still differed in the way of addressing these perennial problems besetting the nations, in particular about whether it required reform or a complete overhaul of the system. Nevertheless, we had been much closer in recent years in terms of our thoughts than we had been before.

We convey our deepest condolences to Professor Jayathilake’s family and friends. Our thoughts are with them in this time of grief and sorrow. Our memories of him will live forever in our hearts.

Vale Professor C L V (Lakshman) Jayathilake.

Lionel Bopage and Family,
Melbourne, Australia

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Latest comments

  • 11
    0

    A distinguished and remarkable personality of Peradeniya, particularly of the Engineering Faculty. May his soul rest in Peace.

    • 11
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      He was my Uni batchmate, colleague and dear friend. Though….. “A distinguished and remarkable personality of Peradeniya, particularly of the Engineering Faculty”…… he was an alumni of the Colombo University Engineering Faculty, passing out in 1960, and did his lecturing at Pera later. It was, I think in 1962 that the Engineering Faculty shifted to Peradeniya from Thurstan Road. We kept in touch all these years and I spoke with him just 2 months ago and he was in good health and usual lively spirits.
      Saddened indeed by his untimely passing away.

      • 3
        4

        COVID gets all the good ones ……. and the bad are left to continue their evil bastardy


        Anyone still believes in Karma?

  • 6
    0

    Many thanks for this tribute. CLVJ was certainly a good teacher and a good man, though during my time there, I remember he was at times misunderstood by the student body. Getting the Ruhuna Faculty up and running was indeed a stellar job. In higher roles, it is fair to say he tried to work with — and from within — the system, driven by good intentions.
    Saddened by his passing.

  • 10
    0

    A minor correction in MN’s observations:
Lakshman was at Ruhuna for just one year at the tail end of his university service.
Credit for building up engineering in Ruhuna should go to Dr Keerthisena of Peradeniya.

    *

    That besides;
    
Lakshman’s service was in a variety of capacities outside Peradeniya, and mostly concerned education.
Not many know of his services to the Paddy Marketing Board (1974-75) and his contribution to boosting cement production in Puttalam by 50% through a pre-calcining process in 1979.

    His research at Imperial College was most impressive and the Spalding-Jayathilake P-function for the sublayer of a walled boundary layer was a much used formula in boundary layer analysis even during the early years of Computational Fluid Dynamics. He was awarded the prestigious Unwin Prize for his thesis.
    *
    
The student body was often a victim of its own fiction including malicious gossip.

    Lakshman was strict but extremely kind.
    
He was tough on ragging and personally intervened in incidents of ragging in the faculty. That did upset a few who were disciplined and their friends.
He was never personally vindictive.

    He had time for students, gave them sound advise and helped with their personal problems.
He was a courageous and trusted negotiator. On his own initiative, he undertook to negotiate a settlement with the President of the Peradeniya Campus and striking students in 1976.

    • 4
      4

      I would like Dr. Keerthisena to comment on
      “Credit for building up engineering in Ruhuna should go to Dr Keerthisena of Peradeniya.”

  • 2
    1

    “It is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the
    imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it
    moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and
    homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the

    comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege.

    The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that
    his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step,
    are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the
    doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the
    lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines.
    He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his
    opponents and hope the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny

    he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned…

    Continued…

  • 2
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    Continue….
    On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike
    the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not
    his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of
    science with life, comfort, and hope. No doubt as years go by the people
    forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician puts
    his name on it. Or they credit it to some promoter who used other people’s
    money . . . But the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of
    goodness which flows from his successes with satisfactions that few

    professions may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the

    accolade he wants.”

  • 1
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    Professor Jayathilake was primarily an engineer but later got immersed in other aspects of Education.
    .
    I entered the Arts Faculty at Peradeniya in November 1982; warning: chronology may confuse. In my tumultuous first year of complicated student affairs, I already knew Prof Jayathilake, but it may have been in 1985 that I got to know him reasonably well. Drama in the University always meant the “Wala Festival” on our side of the Mahaweli, but we got English Theatre activity going by 1985, and that was centred upon the E.O.E. Pereira Theatre in the E. Fac. I worked with many engineering students a dozen years junior. The Faculty was in the fortunate position of having surplus Japanese aid, and Harin Corea became quite expert in the area of lighting; we installed state-of-the-art equipment. Money properly spent, results may still be there.
    .
    1984 had been the Qadri Ismail English Special batch:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/in-memoriam-qadri-ismail-limitations-of-sri-lankas-nationalisms/
    .
    Insiders knew that Revantha Sinnetamby set the Drama standards, but also in it was Ravi John who was well-known during his all too short life. From 1985 on the Engineering Faculty became surprisingly active in English Drama for many years.
    .
    To be continued

    • 1
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      Continuing
      .
      I’m uncertain of chronology here, but Prof. Jayathilake was asked to look into youth unrest after Wijeweera’s second uprising, and then to take charge of the National Education Commission which formulates Education policy. There has to be constant review of the goals and the means whereby they are attained. It is a task that has to be undertaken by many. But remember that every citizen is an authority! A key player who became the Secretary to the Commission, was R.S. Medagama who had been the Principal of the little A. Level school in the Maldives, on my last assignment abroad.
      .
      I got to know the work being done by CLVJ at that time, and interacted with him much more when he moved into the National Institute of Education, Maharagama, as Chairman, to supervise the implementation of those reforms. The Secretary to the Ministry was Dr Tara de Mel, who has once more directed her attention to the state of education now:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/education-crisis-a-humanitarian-crisis/
      .
      These were all good people and played their parts well.

    • 0
      0

      PART THREE
      .
      However, Education is the graveyard of many good persons. Implementation of what is decided becomes very difficult given that there are 10,000 schools in the country. I have commented on how we purchased theatre lighting for the EOEP Theatre. That was easy with few people involved, but it was almost impossible to keep a tab on the spending by the Education Ministry. For the English teaching programme it was decided that cassette-recorders would be invaluable. True. When about forty thousand players had to be purchased, although I was assigned no such task, I visited the British Council and various importers. I was told that for such a large order one of the major Japanese manufacturers would produce a model in keeping with our specifications. What got imported were some clumsy and fragile double-cassette-recorders branded “Yamaha” which began to disintegrate at literally the first touch. Within two years, there were probably none in service.

    • 0
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      PART FOUR

      State money is always spent imprudently. Two audio cassettes were produced to go with the A. Level General English book; the politicians stepped in and said that every student had to be given a pair of cassettes. And so they were for the first two batches. Where-ever I could, I suggested that master copies be given to each school, together with the double-cassette recorders so that copies could be provided to those students who desired them. Else – my prophecy proved quite right; they were recorded over with the music of the student’s fancy. Subsequent batches received no training in listening.
      .
      The World Bank specialist advising on technology was “Professor Lani Gunewardena” of Albuquerque University; I don’t think that I met her while her “project” was on, but after it was over she turned up in Bandarawela for some sight-seeing. Nirmalani was a class-mate of one of my sisters (all émigrés now). Trudging down to the Dunhinda Falls, we got talking to a woman gathering firewood. I was sure that she would bolster my argument – but alas – she did have a cassette-recorder at home. Next stop, Native’s Dambana. I had given up by then.

    • 1
      0

      PART FIVE
      .
      Back to topic; not many may know that CLVJ ended his active days in education by starting a little International School of his own in High Level Road, Maharagama. He called it Uppsala, and was glad that in me he found a guy who had heard of the University in Sweden. I wonder why he called it that?
      .
      It was to start with the very youngest children, and I wondered if it’s still there.
      .
      https://www.facebook.com/uppsala.maharagama.5
      .
      Since that is all that I find on googling, it may not have amounted to much, but I remember him discussing it with me in detail. He certainly was very concerned with all aspects of education, and liked the quiet things in life.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe

  • 3
    0

    Prof Jayathilake gave our very first initiation lecture in 1982 and it was one of the more memorable lectures we listened to in the 4 years at the faculty. He was always a kind man whose office was always open to students. He was instrumental in getting many of the university staff involved in technical education and worked very closely with my father.

    I have many memories of this excellent man. and if my memory serves me he was the vice-chancellor during the second JVP uprising and was instrumental in ensuring our batch did sit our final exams in time. Everyone after us was delayed by 3 years and many ended up leaving.

    You were well-liked and loved by almost all the students but not necessarily the student unions and the politically minded ones. You Sir together with prof J A Gunawardena and Prof Fernando are in “My” hall of fame of much loved and respected educators.

    Thank you Sir for your contribution to our education. for opening our eyes so to speak,, and may you attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana at a time of your choosing.

    • 5
      0

      Dear a14455,
      This is an aside for another great personality, who gave his entire life for Pera Uni till his end and stuck to academia all through.
      Since you mention Prof J A Gunawardena, who remained an absolutely simple man till his demise (2.09.19) two years ago, yesterday. He was quite happy to be addressed as “Gunda” till his end. In fact over the phone he will introduce himself as such to anyone known to him. I recall him leaving a message with my domestic, saying ” Tell him Gunda called”. He was that down to earth.
      He was one year senior to Lakshman J in the 1955 batch Colombo E-Fac.
      I consider myself fortunate to have had their friendship till the end of their days.

      • 4
        1

        Indeed Gunda was always a legend. There are so many stories about him. But these people were very nice and kind and they became friends and mentors after that 4-year stint.

        All those who I talk of fondly were more than just teachers. They were friends in later life.

        Now they are all gone. but they made their mark on this earth and made many of our lives better,

  • 9
    3

    The death of this great man is saddening.

    Peradeniya works on a hierarchy of respect for seniors. I joined as a professor at age 47 with a D.Sc./IEEE Fellow. My doing things differently was resented. Four out of the 8 professors wanted my removal. They wrote to IESL not to admit me. The Council threw out all charges and promoted me Senior Professor. IESL after inquiry into my lacking ethics admitted me as Fellow, advising me not to upset my seniors.

    HJ Keerthisena, Noel Fernando and Nimal Ekanayake stood by me, trying to use my ideas and were resented. Anonymous emails were circulated against them. A senior academic chided: “We had two devils, Siva and Goonda, always fighting. You have united them.”

    When I joined Peradeniya, Prof. Jayathilake had left and was heading government agencies. He knew that I lacked friends among the professors. He put me on committees under him. He pushed for my wife’s advancement. I fondly remember his calling me from Peradeniya to his office in Colombo to tell me, “Jeevan. I want you to know that I am your friend.”

    Sri Lanka needs many Lakshman Jayathilakes. He has made even SJ write something nice for once.

    • 5
      0

      //… stood by me, trying to use my ideas …//
      Not a nice thing to say, as the gentlemen named are, AFAIK, not regulars on this forum.

  • 6
    0

    Prof Lakshman Jatatilleke was a great personality who changed the lives of many. He was my teacher, in the first year of the Engineering course. Subsequently he was the Head of Department of Mechanical Engineering after I joined it. Later on he was our Dean and Vice Chancellor. We had a lot of interactions. I will relate one incident with him. My wife wanted to apply for a post in the university library, but she missed the deadline by a few days. I went with her to the senate building to hand over the late application. The Senior Assistant Registrar advised me to get the application endorsed by the VC, Prof Jayatilleke, as the deadline has passed. So I walked in to the VCs office together with my wife. Prof. Jayatilleke had a look at the application and said the he did not want to endorse it as she was sure to be selected. He continued to say that, problems would arise after her selection that the application was entertained late as that of his colleague’s wife. It was a fantastic lesson on integrity. I am happy that it happened so. Of course she entered the university library system at PGIM later.

    Sarath Seneviratne

  • 1
    0

    This comment has nothing to do with Prof Jayathilake’s life, but relates to another indelible memory of the time. It was the first time I met Sisira Jayasuriya (Professor of Economics at Monash in Melbourne and one of my close friends) who spoke at a meeting held at the Arts Theatre in support of the students strike I have referred to. He was an activist of the “Virodhaya” group, then.I went and spoke with him to congratulate him on his speech citing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He received much applause at the end of the speech. His was entirely different from the partisan fiery speeches made by some student leaders, who were waiting for the SLFP to regain power and they acquired top govt positions for their work. He may not recollect this incident. Sisira is another hero of our time and thought mentioning this would be relevant in a historical sense.

  • 5
    0

    When Prof. Jayathilaka was the VC, there was some commotion at Akbar Hall among a few first-year students. Based on someone’s advice he had ordered all first-year students to leave the hall and go home. At that time, the IPKF was rampaging through the North and these freshmen from my home region complained to me ( I was in my final year) about having to go home in the midst of IPKF operations in Jaffna. I was somewhat angered by the decision and went with another friend to the VC’s official residence to complain.

    He invited us inside his residence, gave us tea, and inquired about our health, etc. I told him the decision sounded like collective punishment over the unruly actions of a few, and doing so in the middle of IPKF’s atrocities would affect the students who were well-behaved. He was non-committal but I came away feeling good, and whatever anger I took with me was gone after I talked to him.

    • 5
      0

      And in the end, I think he reversed his decision, though I had no influence on the decision–it was due to many other factors.

      • 2
        0

        Agnos

        Thanks for the info.
        Have you had any opportunity to deal with SJ?
        Being anti Hindian, did SJ go to North/East to fight off IPKF or was he awaiting for Chinese arms drop?

        • 2
          0

          NV,
          SJ had left Peradeniya for Imperial College when I entered Peradeniya. I didn’t meet him there.

  • 6
    0

    Agnos

    Thanks.
    You were lucky.
    Just curious, do you know why he didn’t go to China instead he chose his Colonial master’s Uni?

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