Remembering Doric de Souza


by Sumangalika Dharmadasa

Doric de Souza,

We should be thankful to Mr Lal Wijenayake for reminding us (in his article in the Island Newspaper of 4th Jan) about the birth centenary of Mr Doric de Souza, the much respected academic who was one of the leading intellectuals of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya during its heyday. This also happens to be the birth centenary of Professor Sarachchandra the many faceted acidic of the same institution. And for me personally, it is also the birth centenary of my father, M. D. Banda, who was a batchmate of Prof. Sarachchandra in the Ceylon University College.

When we entered the university of Peradeniya, we already knew of Mr Doric Souza as a senator and a powerful politician of the Samasamaja party. We had also heard of his brilliance as a lecturer and were eager to see him. I still remember how he breezed in for his first lecture with us sharp on time and then, sitting on the teacher’s table peered at us over the rim of his spectacle. As I did English as a subject in my first year and eventually offered English Special for the degree, I had the good fortune to study under him for an extended period of time. His first lecture as well as all the others that followed during the four years that I attended his classes kept us spellbound. His wit was incomparable and we used to be in fits of laughter that we tried to suppress in our first year thinking that such behavior was unbecoming of serious undergraduates!

Professor Souza happened to be my very first ‘Boss’ as he was the Head of the newly established Sub. Department of English when we joined it. Sarojini Knight, Hemamali Gunasinha and Lalitha Gunawardene were already there when we joined its ranks in 1969.Indeed it was Doric who recruited me, Aubrey Kuruppu , Manel Eriyagama and Lakmali (daughter of Phillip Gunawardene) amongst others, as Instructors of the department. The sub Department of English had been set up with the primary objective of teaching English as a second language to undergraduates who had begun to enter the university in the swabasha medium. So Doric (who took over from Professor Chitra Wickramasooriya ) was entrusted with the awesome task of running the pioneer English Language Teaching (ELT) programme of the university system in this country. Many are unaware that this was indeed the first ELT Course in Sri Lanka and that it was Doric who set it on a firm footing. It was Doric again who later began an ELT Programme in the Colombo university with the able assistance of Prof. Shiromi Fernando.

Doric was a strict disciplinarian and insisted on punctuality. One day a colleague of ours arrived five minutes late and found to her dismay that Doric was already teaching her class. We dared not ask for leave to attend weddings, for he was of the opinion that leave should be requested only for your own wedding! He used to say " when my wife was delivering our baby I was delivering a lecture!"

Professor Souza , as Mr. Lal Wijenayake very correctly claims, kept his Marxist politics and his academic work in separate compartments, never allowing one to dominate the other. One of the statements attributed to him is " My politics start beyond the Galaha junction" meaning that he did not bring his party politics into university affairs. It was indeed Doric, the staunch Leftist, who recruited me

( the daughter of a UNP cabinet minister) and Lakmali

( daughter of a politician who was said to be a strong critic of Doric). Such was the magnanimity of the academic we are talking about.

I would like to end this note of appreciation by recounting two episodes which illustrate the humane aspect of this admirable personality. When we joined the sub dept. of English as temporary staff we received a meager payment of Rs. 15/ per hr. on days that we had work. One day Professor Souza said " Miss , what you earn is not enough to even cover your hall fees , so why don’t you come every day and read a book or something , so that you can be paid?"

The second incident happened a few months before the General Election of 1970 when the UNP led coalition government was routed and the United Left Front(with the LSSP as a leading partner) won a resounding victory . The leftist newspapers were engaged in virulent attacks on what they called the ‘Hath Havul Aanduwa’. One morning Lakmali and I were summoned by Mr. Souza and we noticed that he was reading a leftist paper. Then asking us to sit down he said " Miss, you don’t have to worry about these newspapers. You have the necessary qualifications and it was I who recruited you." We were utterly baffled because we did not know what he was talking about. Later we were astounded to hear that a certain Sinhala party newspaper had carried banner headlines implying that two daughters of government ministers had been given jobs in the university for political reasons! Doric was furious as there had been no such hanky panky in our appointments as I had a Degree in English and Lakmali had offered English for her General Degree. Doric perhaps thought that we would be upset and wished to console us. We were touched by his concern. Such was the graciousness of this admirable Teacher.

A portrait of Professor Doric de Souza adorns the walls of the Sub Dept of English, now called the English Language Teaching Unit. I’m glad that we able to do this as a way of paying homage to the pioneering spirit of this great Teacher.

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