Originally delivered as the Eulogy, Toronto, Ontario, 10 December 2006 by Robin Oakley with Tony Seed, and edited for publication
(December 29, 2006) – Veerasingan Dhuruvasangary passed away on 2 December 2006 in Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. A scientist, an inventor, writer, artist, internationalist and a beloved friend, we called this modest, unassuming man Dhuruva or, more often than not, Inventor.
Born in Point Pedro (Jaffna), Sri Lanka in September 1950, he used to say “I had two fathers: my birth father, and Russia.”
Dhuruva was the last of 12 children and he said that, by the time he was born, his parents were old and struggling to provide for the family. “Other than love, my parents did not have anything to share with their youngest son.” They named him Dhuruvasangary after a poor child who was transformed by the Hindu Lord Siva into the pole star “Dhuruvan Natchathra,” that has helped fishers, traders and seafarers for thousands of years to navigate the oceans.
His parents were story tellers; by the age five, he would have listened to thousands of stories ranging from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Greek Odyssey, and numerous other classical literatures rendered lovingly into inspiring tales for a small child. This created a solid social foundation by providing the treasure of humanity’s knowledge accumulated over millennia, and set the stage for his life long interest in demonstrating the logic and the science behind these ancient myths. Like many other parents in Jaffna at the time, Dhuruva’s parents encouraged him to study and especially to experiment with the world around him. Consciousness is above all, an act of finding out:
“We were very poor and we had a clock and I loved to break it and fix it and break it and fix it (laughing). My father would say ‘aiooo!’ and then he would look up in the stars to tell the time – okay it is 4am now, and he would wake my mother to make tea for me and then he woke me up and I would study. He never said, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’ Eleven of my inventions have used clocks.”
Dhuruva’s father had himself authored five academic text books. In Sri Lanka, teachers are esteemed, and Dhuruva could recall all of his teachers effortlessly. He admired that they would be in school hours before lessons writing meticulous mathematics and physics on the blackboard for the students who memorized their notes in advance. Teachers, he said, loved their students, were in turn inspired and taught by them, and were very dedicated to their work.
Jaffna was a renowned centre of learning for this highly literate people. Imagine the imprint on his young mind visiting Jaffna town from Point Pedro and exploring, reading and studying in its splendid public library, considered a patrimony of humanity. It housed some 93,000 priceless and rare books, manuscripts and ola [dried palm] leaf documents – “this monument to the learning and culture and the desire for learning and culture of the people of Jaffna.” (Report of the Movement for Inter Racial Justice and Equality ) The Jaffna Public Library, inaugurated in 1941, was extensively used and entirely financed by ordinary working people as well as children, intellectuals, teachers, students and international scholars; it was turned into ashes on 2 June 1981 by the Sri Lanka police force under supervision of two cabinet ministers of the government. In that barbaric act much of the accumulated knowledge and history of the Tamil people, an ancient people, was lost. Nor was this the first time such a savage destruction has happened. (1)
Point Pedro, on the northeastern end of the Jaffna peninsula, according to Dhuruva, was a coastal community where his parents, who were farmers, migrated to so that their children could access the excellent educational opportunities there. He indicated,
“I was born in Sri Lanka, Point Pedro, they were a fishing community. Other than fishing, of course agriculture is not possible; of course they tried agriculture, but it didn’t come very well, because of the soil conditions the soil and water salinity. Therefore, their main preoccupation was education. My mother said that when she was young, raw rice was a staple food in Sri Lanka. Jaffna people, rarely ate rice because thry will be getting for one yield, 20 bushels, it is 1/6 of the yield from rest of the island. But in the rest of the island, they could get two yields or three yields, that is 180 bushels so sometimes 9 times more than in one season they get. So our main investment was education. Actually, my father came from a farming village, and he had to walk 20 miles up and down to get his education. He said that on the way he did all his homework on his way to school, and he liked the place because his children can get good education.
“So for an example, you come to my village, after six o’clock we didn’t have any electricity everyone is shouting and studying you know, you can just hear the noise! One will be studying science, another will be studying maths it was so interesting. We didn’t have anything to do other than study, so we were forced to study. My mom will come and say, ’see other man is studying, you are playing, you cannot.’ In the 1960s when the universities only took 250 science students, 200 of them would have come from Point Pedro, so much an information-based economy was it.”
At the age of 16, Dhuruva wrote a research paper entitled “Explosive Mechanism of the Ruella Fruits” which won him a scholarship for higher studies leading to the M.Sc. degree in Moscow State University. In his second year, he invented a device to measure all types of atmospheric precipitation including snow and hail. His invention is still prominently displayed at Moscow State University. Dhuruva spent seven years in Russia, each year winning a scholarship to continue throughout the 1970s, and was invited to do his PhD in the faculty of agriculture.
At that time the Soviet Union was still seen as a land of hope for humanity. One of his favourite themes was his love of Russia and its people. He could never say enough about how warm and kind the Russians had treated this student youth from Sri Lanka. A life long vegetarian, Dhuruva recounted how his hosts always tried to see that he had enough nutritious foods without meat so he could maintain his dearly-held values. He spoke proudly of the oral defence of his doctoral thesis he conducted before more than 200 students and professors who attended and grilled him on his knowledge of the subject matter; his M Sc. Thesis was deemed the best of the batch.
In the late 1970s, Dhuruva returned to Sri Lanka at the request of his father who passed away soon after. The late 1970s and early 1980s evidenced the development of a quota system that was designed to allow more Sinhalese students into universities by lowering grades and developing criteria that restricted Tamils with higher grades from attending university as well as entering the civil service. He worked as an agronomist for the Sri Lankan government conducting field researches, travelling freely amongst Sinhala and Tamil communities alike, but faced vicious discrimination from the government. Imagine the impact the burning of the Jaffna Public Library had on his young scientist in 1981.
Like tens of thousands of other Tamils in the Diaspora, Dhuruva emigrated to Canada after the state-organized Black July pogroms in 1983, but found a society in which his scientific credentials and accomplishments were dismissed rather than valued, which impoverished him according to the racist criteria of capital rather than uplifting him. As a result he was forced to eke out a meagre living according to circumstance. His scientific output was limited only by the material constraints which he faced in common with many other independent scientists, researchers and artists. Dhuruva had to solve on his own the problems of technical resources, accessing his subject matter, patenting his inventions, and ensuring publishing outlets for his scholarly work.
Dhuruva once told a story that encapsulates the culture of capitalism that discourages consciousness, thinking and investigation. He spoke of a man who was down by the ocean picking up pebbles and looking for gold. Dhuruva said: “He would pick up a pebble, look at it, ‘not gold’ and then he’d throw it back into the ocean. He did this with thousands of pebbles for days and days. Then he actually picked up a gold nugget one day and he threw it back into the ocean – out of habit! Train their mind… Lenin had written a volume of books – to educate the youth to be act and to be conscious.”
In Toronto Dhuruva actively took up co-editorship of a weekly tabloid during the early 1990s, and militated in the ranks of the Canadian people, taking a stand on numerous political issues. He participated in the many demonstrations held during Ontario’s Days of Action through the 1990s, the movement against US-NATO aggression in Yugoslavia, the ongoing bombing and invasion of Iraq through the 1990s and in 2003, and numerous events too many to mention. Through this political experience, Dhuruva came to know and participate in the work of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and enthusiastically supported it until his untimely death.
Dhuruva was the author of three books: Research Articles on Palmyrah Palm (1979): Lost Aviation Technology (1994) and En Muliyan Tamil (The Story of My Language; 2005), the latter two being published during his years in Canada. He also wrote many articles on science, archaeology, religion and history. These original works took up the defence of the knowledge and achievements of ancient civilizations and the erasure of historical identity by the imperialists. Dhuruva tackled some of the great problems facing all humanity, the great power and strength of his scientific and linguistic scholarship.
After the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004, Dhuruva wrote about how ancient techniques could be simply applied to ward off the damage of such predictable environmental occurrences, protect the coastal communities from natural and social disaster, and be freely made available on the internet. The refusal to modernize and apply such suppressed technologies of his people to provide solutions to the ecosystem and the problems faced by the coastal communities astride the Indian Ocean arose because of their lack of control over their neo-colonial governments. An anti-imperialist scientist, Dhuruva strongly believed that ideas, being social, should be shared freely.
The theses of Lost Aviation Technology was that ancient civilizations practised science in the true sense of the word, in that science, for them, involved a process of verification, which placed the human factor first as opposed to capitalist-era pseudo science that prioritizes profit over human-centred verification. Such developed civilizations as the Indus Valley (Nagas People), Egypt, Sumeria, Armenia, Greece, the Aztecs and Mayans and Sri Lanka had sophisticated mathematics, science and technology; their material culture, far from the metaphysical interpretation, utilized practical and common sense messages to convey science and technology to the masses. Aviation was one such ability.
The Story of My Language was initially published in Tamil, an ancient and classical language; Dhuruva had recently completed the English translation and it was set for publication in the near future. He did not see this work as an isolated work in linguistics, as an instrument for self-advancement, as an argument for the value of linguistic diversity in the great “melting pot” of the Anglo-American world, nor as an assertion of Tamil chauvinism. What was to him important was the defence and the right-to-be of oppressed languages and culture against reaction and cosmopolitanism. As a vehicle of over four thousand years of his people’s history, memory and intelligence, the Tamil language was for him precious beyond measure.
Humanity has suffered great losses these days; among the losses are some of the oldest languages in the world. In this era of “globalization” and the dictate of Eurocentrism by mega powers – with their colonial thesis that only the European nation states have “history”, i.e., “memory” and “intelligence” – the Tamil people, irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, citizenship or place of residence – be in their homeland or in the Tamil Disapora – are denied their nation, their rights and their own thought material. They have been demanding their language and culture for over one hundred years, and have resisted all attempts both to sanskritize it and its use as a tool to divide the peoples. Although the resilient Tamil language is one of the largest in the world, and has remained close to the Dravidian character in its lexicon, its very existence is barely tolerated if even acknowledged due to the grip of Eurocentrism and neo-colonialism. Outside the state of Tamil Nadu in India, the Tamil language, philosophy, culture, music, art, etc., are not recognized.
His third and last work, The Story of My Language, was an innovative tour de force in which Dhuruva traced the classical Tamil language and its lexicon back more than four thousand years to its early beginnings, which, according to him, was based on a pictographic system. Dhuru traced the origins of early Tamil to the Indus Valley pictographs and later ideograms in systematic and careful analyses. In this sense, the Tamil language, moulded by the thought of two hundred generations of his forebears, a storehouse of the accumulated experience and rich, practical wisdom of a people, is older than Hindi and Sinhala, the official languages (together with English) of India and Sri Lanka respectively, as are other suppressed languages of India such as Punjabi. Even before the Grecian and Roman civilizations, this people were already cultured and living in a well-organized society. That great egalitarian civilization lacked any evidence of religious leaders or monumental public works to ruling elites, but it did have sophisticated technology such as hydrology and the ability to wield water in a dry environment. For Dhuruva, too, the dignity and affirmation of the Tamil language, science and national identity was closely linked with the freedom and emancipation of his people.
Dhuruva was also fond of critiquing the pseudo-scientific practises of capitalist medicine. For example, Dhuruva told about a physician in Toronto prescribing a pill for him. After taking it, he swelled up, and nearly died. After that he did not take any more pills. “I have lived with diabetes for 23 years and a kidney infection for several years but I took no medication for it. I drink lots of water, water at 0 degrees decreases the weight because of the energy the body needs to heat the water for 37 degrees Celsius for digestion. No doctor will understand this or tell you this.”
Nevertheless his convictions and scientific work led to a great collaboration with his fellow Canadians. For instance, he spent a month in Halifax, Nova Scotia, during the summer of 2005 translating The Story of My Language in conjunction with the editor, Tony Seed, and staff at the New Media Services Inc. and Shunpiking magazine office and in particular with C. Radhakrishnan, a beloved friend and a colleague with whom he discussed and developed many of his ideas over the years. He looked forward to returning to Halifax from Toronto and actively taking up a responsibility with Shunpiking as science editor. Dhuruva loved to talk with people, all people, especially those who were seeking what Dhuruva referred to as quenching an “intellectual thirst” – a thirst that characterised his entire life.
In addition to science, and writing, Dhuruva completed a number of inventions while in Canada such as a coconut tree climbing device, a world clock, solar oven, and a complex assembly system for cleaning products. He had established several patents for his original inventions and was also working on a telescope that could be converted into a microscope. He was also a very good artist and many of his original paintings were featured in his first book, Lost Aviation Technology.
A soft, kind and unassuming man, Dhuruva had no prejudices and treated everyone equally. He loved to cook the renowned Point Pedro Thosai, Idles and hot coconut sambar for his friends. “I am a free thinker,” he used to say. His dream was to start a learning Institute for all free thinkers, to make a contribution to society, as he always said. He was adamant that those people he had worked with over the years should carry on his ideas after his death; this was a theme he often emphasized. His two immediate goals were to return to Point Pedro to locate two pillars that he believed held vital information about ancient Tamil script, and to prove that Sigriya, an ancient fortress over 600 metres high carved atop a massive rock in central Sri Lanka, now a UNESCO world heritage site, was developed using kite technology.
The last time we met with him, he asked: “Tell me what is the most dangerous weapon in the world?” His answer: “Social Love.” Indeed, here was a man who could express his social love for humanity by tirelessly working on, testing the validity of and sharing his ideas, putting them into words, for the lay person. The rich cultural and social heritage provided from the rendering of humanity’s store of knowledge through myths by his loving parents, his education by dedicated teachers in Jaffna and Russia, his collegial collaboration with new colleagues in Canada, enabled Dhuruva to rise above his own individual suffering that could have rendered others bitter, apathetic or cynical. In spite of many hardships, Dhuruva continued to show empathy to others and lend a hand where he could, as well as research and work on scientific problems up until the very end of his life, because together we stand for a just cause, a historic cause, bound up with the future of the Tamil people worldwide, who number in their tens of millions, but with the fate of humankind itself.
Dhuruva’s passing leaves a large empty gap; he left us too soon and with so much unfinished brilliant work. But we will go on with the conviction that his ideas will be carried to fruition to make a contribution to the Tamil nation and to the advancement of society and humankind, as he worked toward in his too-short lifetime.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
(1) It is important to realize the profound significant the burning of the Jaffna Public Library has for a people as well as Dhuruva, a young scientist in 1981. The burning of the Library was devastating, a barbaric act of deliberate destruction comparable to the torching of the great library of Alexandria, the libraries in Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, and the burning of the National Library in Iraq and the looting of the Museums of Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Uruk and Babylon among others on 12-13 April 2003 by the American invaders. The same occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina when in that war the national library was intentionally burned. For Dhuruva, it became a motive force to defend his people’s historical identity, the erasure of which was the sole purpose of the destruction of the Library; to destroy the grandeur of Tamil culture and history.