South Australia’s Indian and Sri Lankan communities lost two prominent leaders in the space of three weeks – Dr Jagan Mazumdar and Mr Siva Selvakulalingam – both of whom had made phenomenal contributions in their chosen fields and left lasting legacies.
Dr Jagan Mazumdar AM: Mathematics Mentor
Arriving at Adelaide in 1966 even as the White Australia policy was on its way out, Jagan could possibly be called a pioneer since his was the first Indian family here, a couple of others being students. His pioneering spirit was evident even earlier when he chose Moscow to do his PhD, while bright Indian students looked westward, unmindful of the challenges of food and cultural differences and an alien language.
Jagan, born in Purulia District in West Bengal, did his Bachelors’ and Masters’ degrees in mathematics at Patna University that also gave him his future partner, Maya Dutta, the Vice-Chancellor’s daughter.
He was the first Indian academic at the Adelaide University – it became his second home for the next 50 years or so where he promoted original research in Bio-medical Engineering in cardiology and orthopaedics, earning the highest recognition as Emeritus Professor. During those long years, he supervised and guided a large number of PhD students many of whom now hold prestigious positions in several parts of the world. He was a visiting professor at universities in the US, Canada, India and Singapore.
Jagan published over 200 academic papers and five seminal books. Internationally recognised as an expert in solid mechanics, mathematical biology and physiology and biomedical engineering, he received numerous awards including an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia and Fellow of the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine. In his honour, a special edition of the International Journal of Applied Mathematics and Statistics was brought out in 2006, and the Adelaide University has established a J. Mazumdar prize in Engineering and Mathematics.
Jagan was awarded the Order of Australia in 2012 for his “service to Applied Mathematics and Bio-Medical Engineering as a researcher and educator and to the Indian community.”
Yes, his service to the Indian community was as impressive as his academic achievements. With only three other Indian families around in the early ‘70s, he founded the India Club that later became the Indian Australian Association of SA, the premier association now representing the Indian community in the state.
He was also deeply involved in the Hindu Society of SA and the Bengali Cultural Association. He and Maya generously extended pastoral care to all newly arriving Indian families and students. Jagan never missed an opportunity to see that India’s rich cultural and social developments were appreciated by the wider Australian community and the installation of a Gandhi statue at the Adelaide University was the realisation of one of his dreams.
Dr. Mazumdar passed away on Saturday, February 12, surrounded by his sons Raju and Sanjay and their families.
Siva Selva OAM: Spiritual stalwart
Friday, March 6 marked the end of an era for the Hindu Society of SA with the passing away of Selvakulalingam, its president until recently for a remarkable period of 20 continuous years.
The life journey of Sivagurunathan Selvakulalingam, fondly called Selva, is remarkable: he rose to become a successful businessman from a very humble beginning. Born in 1939 at Jaffna in Sri Lanka, he was brought up by his mother, Rasama, after the death of his father when he was only six. Overriding the family’s economic hardship, he obtained good grades in school and earned a scholarship to study woodwork technology in the UK. After gaining a diploma in Mechanical Engineering from Salford Technology College in Manchester in 1968, he joined a British woodworking machinery firm in Kuala Lumpur, eventually becoming its Managing Director.
Arriving in Adelaide in 1988 as a business migrant with his wife Sivanes and their two young sons, Selva set up a factory to manufacture wine racks and an import-export enterprise. His innovative approach and export success twice earnt him State Government awards for small and medium industries.
Even as he was running a successful business, he made it his business to see that the Hindu community here gets a place of worship that he felt was a missing piece in his spiritual life, since he hailed from a family that traditionally provided materials for temple worship. Almost from the moment he landed in Adelaide, he immersed himself with the Hindu Society, becoming a committee member and tirelessly working towards his goal. With a handful of enthusiastic members, he knocked on hundreds of doors week after week to raise enough funds to transform a disused church building into an authentic Hindu temple with traditional architecture in 2000.
Being a visionary, he undertook an expansion of the premises, doubling its size to cater for the needs of the growing number of immigrants. He was able to add a community hall to conduct Indian language classes, classical dance lessons, yoga sessions etc. His remarkable ability to bring together various regional groups of Indians – members of Hindu faith from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Fiji and other places – enabled all these projects to be self- funded and ensured the temple’s smooth functioning. His knack for making friends with people of all ranks in government circles helped to raise the profile of the Society, gaining grants and heritage status for the temple within 13 years of construction. He was awarded Australia Day honours OAM in 2011.
Selva had a good rapport with the State premiers of both political persuasion, and the Governor, who used to call him ‘Uncle Siva’ and fondly mentioned that in his personal condolence message.
Unmindful of his position as President, he would tend the roses and trim the hedges in the temple courtyard every week while his wife Sivanes cleaned the interior. Such devotion. He would personally supervise that every ceremony was conducted in an authentic style. He took pride in calling himself as a servant of God, living and breathing until the last moment in the service of the Ganesha temple.
Selva is survived by Sivanes, an equally devoted person, and their two sons Siva Jr and Suren.
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