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Oration honouring Chandrasekhar Sankurathri

Mr. Vice-Chancellor,
It is believed that one of the medieval origins of scientific study was the attempt to convert base metals into gold. This self-serving approach has, in the modern world, been converted into a wide-reaching attempt to better the lives of humans through medicine: the base metal of greed turned into the gold of human good, in itself an alchemical process. Today will be told a tale of personal alchemy in which the base metal of hatred has been converted into the precious element of love, in which a scientist becomes a philanthropist. Chandrasekhar Sankurathri has taken as his life guide the third niyama or observance of Hinduism: dana - to give without thought of reward, to be truly charitable.

A graduate of this university and working as a scientist with our federal Department of Health, Chandra Sankurathri had his quiet life shattered in the Air India bombing of 1985. He lost his wife, his small son and his little daughter. Vice-Chancellor, while it is terrible to relive that moment, it must be relived so that we can understand the incredible transformation of this man before us. A terrorist bomb caused the plane to disintegrate just off the west coast of Ireland. Letters, luggage, limbs, lives were sectioned, severed by the blast. The wreckage, human and material, was scattered over the ocean to eventually sink to its bed. But there was to be no rest there for the families of the victims, for Dr. Chandra. Hatred on another continent had irreversibly changed his life on this continent. His response? To govern himself by the principles of right conduct (dharma) to be found in the Upanishad: to exercise self-control (damyata), to give to others (datta), to be compassionate (dayadhvam). In 1989 he established, in his wife's memory, the Manjari Sankurathri Foundation to improve the situation of the poor in his home region, Andhra Pradesh. Over time this became more focused and, in 1992, he set up a school in his daughter's name to provide a free education for the rural poor, in particular, for girls. In the two decades following, this school has graduated over 1,900 children and provided vocational training for another 600. Beyond the value to these children themselves, the school has also served to demonstrate to their parents the importance of an education. In 1993, recognizing widespread and serious but addressable problems with eye care, he established, in his son's name, the SriKiran Institute of Opthamology. This has, through its numerous urban and rural clinics, provided aid to a million and a half patients and restored the sight of 170,000. The spinoff from this is that people now come to his clinics for early treatment of the eye thereby obviating potential problems. Chandrasekhar Sankurathri has ensured for his wife and children that, "death shall have no dominion./ Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;/Though lovers be lost love shall not" (Dylan Thomas). He lives by the statement carved upon the Air India Memorials in Ireland and Canada: "Time flies/ suns rise/ shadows fall/ let it pass by/ love reigns forever over all."

For this work he has been celebrated in Andrha Pradesh, throughout India, in Canada and in the United States. The subject of two CBC news reports, he was twice named a hero by CNN. For giving the light of learning and of sight to his people, for putting aside the curtain of ignorance and of darkness in the lives of others, for converting a terrible loss of his own into new life for others, Vice-Chancellor, I present to you for the degree of doctor of laws (honoris causa), that remarkable philanthropist, Chandrasekhar Sankurathri.

Shane O'Dea, public orator

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