Prof Arulpragasam’s death, after a highly productive 71 years brought home a flood of memories. His illustrious academic career spanning more than 5 decades is known to many. But few can bear testimony to his deep and passionate commitment to the subject of Education. Still very few know the dedication with which he worked towards making the education system in our country, one that we can be proud of.
I first met Arul at the National Education Commission (NEC) in October 1996. We had both been appointed as Vice Chairpersons in the new Commission. He, in ‘Planning’ and 1, in ‘Policy’ . At first glance I would never had guessed what this man was capable of. I soon came to know that Arul was an uncontrollable workaholic. One with a serious commitment to every job he undertakes.
From the day the Presidential Task Force on Education began its work (December 1996) and the day its recommendations were presented (March 1997), Arul worked tirelessly, round the clock every day of the week, every day of the month. He withstood much pressure, stomached many disappointments. But he pursued his task relentlessly. Those who did not share his enthusiasm and energy were treated with impatience. Those could not match up to his expectations were not tolerated. If there were any traits that Arul lacked, they were tact and patience.
I remember many occasions when some of my colleagues, both in and out of the educations sector, " complained" about Arul. I also remembered how I persuaded them to understand and accept this man for what he was. I remember telling them how I could truly testify that he was indeed a rare breed - a combination of being a hugely valuable asset as well as a bundle of eccentricities. It were these same traits that made him earn many dear friends as well as some foes.
Arul was also known to submit his resignation, sometimes in tremendous haste, over one dispute or another. His resignation was submitted from bodies like the Presidential Task Force on Education, the NEC and more recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC). But those were either not accepted or he withdrew the resignation after some gentle persuasion. By then I had learnt how to handle this unpredictable and highly unorthodox personality.
My last encounter with Arul was on the 6th August 2003, when he attended a meeting at the President’s House with the other members of the UGC and the Vice Chancellors. His was also the last intervention at that meeting. He described the initiatives he had taken recently to improve the teaching of English in the Universities. A subject that had been close to his heart for many years.
I also remember vividly how at the end of the meeting he was helped down the stairs by a colleague. Few people knew that this man, endowed with a wealth of knowledge and experience worked so diligently for so long, while being almost blind in both eyes.
It was in the night of that same day of our meeting that Arul passed away peacefully in his sleep.
Many people will miss him.
Those who formed the team that spearheaded the Education Reforms Programme with Arul, will lament because we lost a valuable resource that will be so hard to replace.
His nieces and nephews from across the globe will miss a loving and caring uncle who gave them what he would have given to a wife and children he never had.
The country lost a dedicated academic and a gentleman of
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