Tribute to our grandfather, Professor Valentine Joseph

13 May 2017 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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These are a few words about our grandfather on behalf of my elder sister, Sashi, and my younger sister Ishani, as well as myself.  


When our grandfather was honoured at the University before the funeral, one student had summed him up perfectly when he said: it is rare to find wisdom and humility together.Pata was one such rare individual. Yes, he was a mathematician, but he was so much more than that. He delighted in poetry and was a linguist too — he was fond of quoting the German philosopher Goethe to my older sister, Sashi, saying “He who does not know another language does not know his own.”He was always keenly aware of the gaps in his own knowledge, but unlike so many, he was eager to fill them. And it is this attitude that we, his grandchildren, will forever admire and aspire to.  


Above all, our grandfather was open minded, fair and balanced. He was a philosopher who was able to treasure both the words of Einstein and those of the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes. People often described him as a simple man — in his eyes, everyone was truly equal. Children would instinctively warm up to him, and when Sashi, was pondering why, she realised perhaps it was simply because he was one of those rare adults — perhaps the only one she had ever met — who genuinely respected children, who believed wholeheartedly that he, with all his knowledge and understanding, could learn from a child.  


It is the greatest privilege to have known and loved Pata. He may have been an expert on relativity, whom the science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke rang up to consult, but for us, his grandchildren, he was more than that. He was the person who would patiently try and explain basic addition to my two older sisters when they were young, whilst they pranced around in fairy wings. He would play endless board games and act out scenes from the Jungle Book with them, standing on a sofa to entertain them.  


My younger sister, Ishani and I, also enjoyed playing scrabble and monopoly with him. A memory that I will always recall with great affection, is whenever my sisters or I scored highly, he would count it, then re-count it, then count it again, and, finally look very surprised before grudgingly writing it down. Another amusing memory of Pata was when we recorded him talking about his life and habits. We then found out the reason why biscuits and choc ices were going missing. At about three in the morning, Pata used to wake up and be unable to fall asleep again. To pass the time, he would read a book. What we didn’t realize, is that he also undertook a night time walk to the fridge, where he would take some of his favourite delicacies and make his way back to his room, where he would proceed to leisurely eat them with a book.  


One of our favourite memories is of him always feeding some of his tea time cake to the small lizards that sometimes come into the house. He told us that without his butter cake, they would be hungry and the lizards relied upon him to feed them. We asked him how he knew the lizards came and ate the cake crumbs underneath his table. He would laugh and smile and say that he saw them come out at night and eat the cake.  


Last July, after returning from a trip to Pasikudah, we were all exhausted on the seven hour journey back to Colombo; but my Grandfather, who had been mulling over a mathematical problem, immediately on his return wrote down the solution before even taking off his shoes.  


Pata had always been there as a major influence’ all of our lives. A couple of years ago, Sashi told Pata that she couldn’t really understand how Christianity helped us to show love. He referred her to the example of St Francis of Assisi. He would be furious to be compared to a saint, but he did show the same kind of gentle universal love.  


Everyone likes to think they have principles, but how many of us can say we truly live by them every day? How many of us are actually willing to change our opinions in the face of facts? How many of us will learn simply for the love of the truth? Our grandfather was someone who was able to do all three.  


Pata had told Sashi that if one truly understood Einstein’s theory of general relativity, you would be compelled to become a pacifist and learn respect for all. Not everyone will be able to understand Relativity, but for us, his grandchildren, we have his example before us and we could not ask for a better moral guide.  


A while back, we asked Pata what he would say the best thing in his life was. His answer came without hesitation: “Meeting your grandmother”. Our grandmother has been with him, supporting him through thick and thin, in a way that inspired awe in us all and for which we know he was profoundly grateful.  


We remember him today and we have sorrow in our hearts because we have lost a wonderful person. But he has moved on and we believe, as he did, that we will be reunited with him and our eldest sister, Anjani, on another shore. Until then, he lives on in this world in our hearts and in our memories.  
Anish Mariathasan  

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