* Message written by Sir. Arthur C. Clarke for the Kulasinghe Felicitation Volume of the History of Engineering in Sri Lanka Volume Series, published by the Institute of Engineers, Sri Lanka.
I have great pleasure in writing a few words introducing this felicitation volume for Dr A N S Kulasinghe, which forms part of the History of Engineering in Sri Lanka series. I want to congratulate the Institution of Engineers, Sri
Lanka, for reviving the series after a decade's hiatus.
They could not have chosen a better person than Dr Kulasinghe, whose career has been devoted to the revival and revitalization of engineering research and development in Sri Lanka. Documenting his many achievements and assessing their impact on post-independence Ceylon/Sri Lanka is instructive not only as part of recent history, but also in identifying where we - as a nation - have failed to adequately develop indigenous capacity for science and technology.
I have only just realised that Dr Kulasinghe and I must have - in theory, at least -passed each other within metres as far back as December 1954. One afternoon that month, I arrived at the Colombo Harbour on board the SS Himalaya, which paused here for half a day on our long journey from Britain to Australia. I was on my way to exploring the Great Barrier Reef, and this was my first introduction to Ceylon -as well as anywhere in the East. I took advantage to do some sightseeing, and what I saw during those few hours interested me enough to come back for an expedition of the island two years later. The rest, as they say, is another story... It is interesting to think that when I first set foot in Ceylon, the young Kulasinghe was working as the Assistant Harbour Engineer (Maritime) at the Colombo Port Commission Department. He was probably cruising around the harbour in his launch 'Speedy' on that very day.
I did not get to meet Dr Kulasinghe until years after I had settled down in the island and started mingling with the local scientific and engineering communities. In the years following independence in 1948, Ceylon produced some of the brightest and cleverest scientists and engineers in the British Commonwealth, and it has been my privilege to meet and interact with many of them. Dr Kulasinghe was certainly one, but what set him apart from most of his contemporaries was that he believed in self-reliance and indigenous innovation. Trained and imbibed in the best engineering and technological traditions of the west, he strove to find local solutions for local problems drawing on local skills and resources. He blazed new trails wherever he worked - starting at the Norton Bridge hydropower project, and moving on to the Port Commission, the State Engineering Corporation, National Engineering Research and Development Centre (NERD) and the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau.
Kulasinghe's career spanned not only over half a century, but it
also covered a wide range of specialisations, from civil, mechanical
and electrical engineering and naval architecture to renewable energy
technologies and manufacturing. Institutions under his leadership worked
closely with both the public and private sector institutions in solving
problems, thus helping local industries to he cleaner, leaner and more
competitive. He was at once the thinker and experimenter - an unusual
combination in any area of science.
This reminds me of a remark I made almost 20 years ago, in my speech accepting the Marconi Fellowship at a gala ceremony held in the Hague in 1982. I said: "Tue world needs uninhibited thinkers not afraid of far-out speculations; it also needs hard-headed conservative engineers who can make their dreams come true. They compliment each other, and progress is impossible without both. If there had been government and dare I say industrial? - research establishment in the Stone age, by now we would have had absolutely superb flint tools. But no one would have invented steel. "
Dr Kulasinghe combined in him both these types. Quite apart from the many patents and constructions to his credit, his legacy includes several generations of Sri Lankan engineers that he trained and inspired, inculcating in them the spirit of innovation and self-reliance. These professionals can form the bulwark of resilience as Sri Lanka struggles to cope with the multiple impacts of accelerated economic globalisation.
I am delighted to record that the University of Moratuwa conferred upon
Dr Kulasinghe the Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) at the Convocation
held in 1979
hope this volume will strengthen the resolve and professionalism of
all Sri Lankan engineers and technicians, and inspire many more generations
in the wake of Dr Kulasinghe.
Arthur C Clarke
Colombo, 10 March 2001